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From Economic Boon to Environmental Bust

The Sad Story
OF Trains in Teaneck

Jacqueline Kates
By Jacqueline Kates
Member, Teaneck Township Council
and officials offered testimony that day. Congressman Rothman has provided $300,000 in federal funding for a noise study that we believe will demonstrate to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that “special local conditions” exist to permit an exception to the Federal Noise Control Act that would allow a local ordinance to control rail freight locomotive noise.

Teaneck would be much better served if infrastructure improvements were made by CSX to reduce the need to idle trains. Teaneck would be best served if rail passenger service were restored—for the benefit of residents and local business, rather than the bottom line of the CSX Corporation. s
Jacqueline Kates has been a member of the Teaneck Township Council since 1996. She served as mayor from July 1, 2002 until June 30, 2006.
 

Train on tracks, see caption below
The freight company CSX uses sites in Teaneck to idle trains as long as 140 cars or 1.5 miles for unacceptably long periods of time, occassionally six hours or more.

The impact trains have had on the township since passenger rail service was established in Teaneck in 1873 is immeasurable. The railroads changed Bergen County from a farming region to an area where people could live and commute daily to jobs in New York City and Jersey City.

According to Township Historian Larry Robertson the first Teaneck side streets that were not farm roads were laid out in proximity to the Hackensack and Englewood rail stations. Later, Teaneck’s business districts were established in locations that provided opportunities for rail commuters to shop on their way home.

In the 1950s Teaneck residents and local businesses were well-served by 44 passenger and 40 freight trains on the West Shore line daily, but by 1959, ferry service to New York was discontinued, train ridership dropped, and passenger service was eliminated.

In 1998 the CSX Corporation purchased the assets of Conrail and established the West Shore as its most competitive freight route to the Midwest where it interchanges with railroads serving the West Coast, greatly increasing the number of trains operating through Teaneck.

CSX uses sites in Teaneck to idle trains as long as 140 cars or 1.5 miles—for unacceptably long periods of time, occasionally six hours or more. CSX considers Teaneck a “safe haven” where long trains can be stopped without blocking any grade level crossings. The idling trains bring excessive noise, fumes and pollution.

Grade level crossings were eliminated in Teaneck in 1925 to protect the safety of residents. The good judgment demonstrated by Teaneck officials then is being used now against the township. With no at-grade crossings, traffic isn’t disrupted by idling trains. However, the lives of our residents are disrupted.
One resident who lives 100 yards from the tracks has decried his inability to listen to music inside his home with windows closed when a train is idling. He no longer even notices the diesel smell that permeates his neighborhood, although he worries because diesel smoke is known to be carcinogenic.
The idling trains do more than disrupt lives, they pose serious dangers, especially to children and teenagers who play around them or climb under them to cross the tracks.

Since September 11, 2001, the parked and idling trains have become a security threat as well. Township officials are not informed by CSX when shipments of hazardous materials are transported on trains that ride through and often park in our community, unguarded, for hours. No one knows the contents of the imported cargo shipments that are not checked upon entry into the country and ride through or idle in our community in double-stacked containers. Our greatest concern is that an idling train could be a target for terrorists. There are several schools, a recreation-senior center, fire station and volunteer ambulance corps building located near the tracks, all in dangerously close proximity to a potential calamity on the rails.

CSX officials have stated their interest in being a “good neighbor,” and CSX maintains an 800 number for residents to register their noise complaints, but since CSX intends to double their freight loads along this line within the next few years, I do not foresee a quick end to this problem.

Regrettably for the residents of Teaneck who suffer from, but receive few of the benefits of, the West Shore rail line, CSX has no interest in reactivating passenger service. Plans are under consideration in Bergen County to develop a regional rail network, and thousands of people who live in communities along the West Shore will be left out of that rail network. Passenger rail service would provide an economic boost to Teaneck’s two major business districts along the rail line and help to reduce automobile traffic, parking and pollution problems throughout the region. Modern diesel passenger trains, such as the DMU, would be compatible with the tracks CSX uses for freight. CSX has added a third track in Teaneck, but not to provide for passenger rail service during commuter hours, not to alleviate the current idling problems, but rather to increase train capacity to meet CSX’s business needs.

Using township resources to monitor idling trains is a cost to the taxpayers, and there is also a cost to the health and peace of mind of Teaneck residents. CSX should take responsibility for the negative impact on the quality of life in Teaneck and the use of our township as a parking lot and pay impact fees to the township.

 As Teaneck explores every possible avenue to resolve the problems caused by CSX, we have had the continuing support of District 37’s Legislators, who arranged a hearing of the Assembly Transportation Committee in the Teaneck Council Chambers. More than 60 distressed residents and officials offered testimony that day. Congressman Rothman has provided $300,000 in federal funding for a noise study that we believe will demonstrate to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that “special local conditions” exist to permit an exception to the Federal Noise Control Act that would allow a local ordinance to control rail freight locomotive noise.

Teaneck would be much better served if infrastructure improvements were made by CSX to reduce the need to idle trains. Teaneck would be best served if rail passenger service were restored—for the benefit of residents and local business, rather than the bottom line of the CSX Corporation. s
Jacqueline Kates has been a member of the Teaneck Township Council since 1996. She served as mayor from July 1, 2002 until June 30, 2006.
 

 

Article published in January 2007, New Jersey Municipalities

 

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