Englewood residents fight for environmental safeguards during rail yard expansion

February 28, 2013

Flickr/vxla
File: Norfolk Southern traincar in Illinois.

Residents in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood are demanding that railway company Norfolk Southern include environmental protections into its expansion plans for its South Side rail yard.

The company has already bought and demolished some Englewood homes over the past several years to fulfill its expansion plans. Now Norfolk Southern is on track to purchase 104 acres of city land. The yard is set to expand southward, from Garfield Boulevard to 61st Street.  

John Paul Jones, the head of the nonprofit Sustainable Englewood, said residents aren’t trying to block the rail yard expansion.

“But for Englewood it could be a dramatic impact on our quality of life but also our well-being because of a host of environmental harms such a project would bring,” Jones said.

Residents worry about health impacts of truck traffic, which would increase because the yard is location where freight is transferred from rail to trucks and vice versa. Residents are particularly concerned about increased diesel-related air pollution, as the Englewood neighborhood already has some of the highest asthma rates in the city.

Jones’ group wants a community benefits agreement from Norfolk Southern, connected to the sale of the city-owned property. Sustainable Englewood is asking for: monitoring and mitigating diesel pollution; creation of green space and placement of buffer zones around homes. The hope is to lessen noise and air pollution.

Brian Urbaszewski of Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago said filters should be go on diesel engine trucks, to eliminate 90 percent of the soot that comes out of tailpipes.

At Tuesday’s city council housing and real estate committee meeting, a hearing for the sale of city land to Norfolk Southern was delayed. A Norfolk Southern spokesman said the company is meeting with environmental activists next month.

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