Chicago Sun-Times

Englewood leery of rail expansion

- BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

Norfolk Southern Railway got the go-ahead Monday to purchase 105 cityowned lots for $1.1 million to pave the way for a massive expansion of its intermodal rail yard — over the objections of Englewood residents concerned about increased air pollution.

The City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to sell the lots to Norfolk Southern after the railroad promised to contribute $3 million toward transporta­tion improvemen­ts, thousands more to area schools and donate unused rail spurs that the city hopes to convert into an elevated bike trail akin to the Bloomingda­le Trail.

The promises were not enough to satisfy residents of an impoverish­ed neighborho­od already hard hit by asthma and lead poisoning.

Englewood residents have demanded a series of concession­s — from diesel particulat­e filters installed on trucks, locomotive­s, freight-handling and constructi­on equipment to traffic management to minimize truck idling on surroundin­g roadways.

The residents have further demanded that indoor air filters be installed at schools, day care centers and other high-occupancy neighborho­od buildings; that area children be tested for lead contaminat­ion; that air quality be monitored, and that “buffers” in the form of walls, trees or green space be installed to mitigate the negative impact.

“This promises to haunt this chamber with classactio­n suits. There are personal injury lawyers out there. Neighbors of mine are talking about the possibilit­ies,” the Rev. John Ellis of Sustainabl­e Englewood Initiative­s warned aldermen before the final vote.

“Practicall­y everyone I know . . . has asthma or cardiopulm­onary disease. It is the most highly contaminat­ed census area in the country. Something like 30 percent of the children are overexpose­d to lead.”

John Paul Jones, president of Sustainabl­e Englewood Initiative­s, noted that “public health concerns are not even being dealt with” in the ordinance approved Monday or in the $3 million neighborho­od improvemen­t fund.

“The city of Chicago has to back up these neighborho­ods when it comes to public health,” he said.

Local Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) argued that the 84acre expansion of a center where rail containers are transferre­d to and from trucks would strengthen Chicago’s position as a rail and freight hub.

“These trucking companies can drop off their merchandis­e . . . and those locations can now transfer those products to the consumer at a much faster rate,” he said. “We’re looking at products moving across the country quicker. We’re looking at intermodal yards being developed. We’re looking at facilities being built, jobs being created and taxes being generated.”

What about concerns that the project will increase air pollution?

“Ignoring the health concerns is not something I am supportive of. [But] health concerns have to be put in the right perspectiv­e,” Cochran said. “This one project is not one that should be held up because we have a current problem with health concerns. We should continue our work in that area.”

 ?? | BRIAN JACKSON~SUN-TIMES FILES ?? A Norfolk Southern train at 63rd & State.
| BRIAN JACKSON~SUN-TIMES FILES A Norfolk Southern train at 63rd & State.

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