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Englewood Rail Yard Expansion: Neighbors Want Guarantees from Railroad

By Wendell Hutson | July 11, 2013 8:48am
 Englewood residents said they wanted to share in the benefits Norfolk Southern would gain by expanding into their community and are concerned about construction-related health hazards. 
Englewood Raily Yard Expansion
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ENGLEWOOD — A rail yard expansion by Norfolk Southern Corp. could run into opposition from a local nonprofit organization unless the railroad makes certain guarantees to the community.

The Sustainable Englewood Initiatives met Wednesday to discuss what guarantees it wanted from Norfolk Southern, such as money for neighborhood improvements; investments to improve the air quality in Englewood, which the organization said would worsen with the planned expansion, and jobs for residents.

"The city is all for the expansion regardless if Englewood residents are shut out of the process. That does not sit well with us. If you want to come to our community, then work with us by providing these guarantees," said John Paul Jones, president of Sustainable Englewood Initiatives. "This is a multibillion dollar corporation looking for land to make more money, and Englewood just happens to have plenty of land available."

Robin Chapman, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said the railroad was buying 105 city-owned lots in the expansion area, which runs from 55th Street and Stewart Avenue to 61st Street and Wallace Avenue. It wants to buy 66 other privately owned lands in the area, too.

He said no additional commitments have been made to the community since earlier this year, though Norfolk Southern has said it would address concerns about emissions from trains and other equipment at the intermodal facility, 361 W. 47th St.

While no tax increment financing money is expected to be used to allow Norfolk Southern to expand the facility, Jones and other members of the organization still plan to attend a July 18 TIF hearing at City Hall.

"You never know what [politicians] might have up their sleeves. That's why we are going," Jones said.

Five aldermen — Pat Dowell (3rd), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Toni Foulkes (15th), JoAnn Thompson (16th), and Willie Cochran (20th) — have wards running through Englewood.

The Rev. Harriette Cole, pastor of Englewood United Methodist Church, said the organization planned to speak to all five before the hearing.

"For the most part, all five support our efforts to make sure residents are not pushed out of their homes and that they benefit from the expansion," Cole said.

Jones said the expansion would mean 800 trucks a day would come through Englewood, as opposed to an average of 300 a day now. That has him concerned about the impact on residents' health.

"The city needs to get their act together because they are ill-equipped to deal with environmental issues," Jones said.

According to the Merck Childhood Asthma Network, a nonprofit health organization in Washington, D.C., asthma-related hospitalizations in Englewood and West Englewood are among the highest in Chicago at 60 percent and 71 percent, more than double Chicago’s average of 31.6 percent.