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Delayed Vote for Rail Yard Expansion Praised by Englewood Community

By Wendell Hutson | August 17, 2013 9:39am
 Sustainable Englewood Initiative, a non-profit organization, wants more community guarantees from Norfolk Southern Corp. before it agrees to support a rail yard expansion into Englewood. 
Rail Yard Vote Delayed
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ENGLEWOOD — Community organizations and residents said they are happy that the city's Planning Commission sided with them at a Thursday meeting and decided to delay a vote on whether to approve Norfolk Southern Corp.'s proposal to expand its intermodal facility.

The Planning Commission delayed a vote until September citing more time is needed to ensure all sides are on the same page particularly residents. The City Council has already approved the sale of 105 city-owned lots for $1.1 million so Norfolk Southern could expand its rail yard, a move opposed by some neighborhood activists.

At the meeting commission members Linda Searl and John Bryant said there are still too many unanswered questions by the community that needs addressing before a vote takes place.

John Paul Jones, president of Sustainable Englewood Initiatives, agreed.

"Englewood is not for sale. Norfolk thought it could push this proposal through City Hall by offering to spend $3 million for community improvements," said Jones. "I am not against the expansion but I do want more guarantees from Norfolk that will benefit Englewood once the expansion is finished."

Jones could not give an exact amount that he would consider fair but added, "$3 million won't do."

He added that jobs are another concern of Englewood residents, who want assurances that they would receive a "fair" share of the estimated 400 jobs the project would create.

For their part, Norfolk Southern officials said while they are disappointed in the delayed vote, they still plan to pursue an expansion of its rail yard at 361 W. 47th St.

"What's next is that we will see what happens at the September Planning Commission meeting," said Robin Chapman, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern. "We would have preferred not to have to wait, of course. We still plan to proceed with the project (though)."

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.

Joyce Edwards has asthma and said she attributes it to living in Englewood.

"I have lived in Englewood for 45 years and during that time I have been diagnosed with asthma even though I don't smoke or work around chemicals," said Edwards, 57. "Now I have grandkids living with me and I am concerned about their health and them possibly getting asthma like me."

But Edwards is not alone when it comes to Englewood residents having asthma.

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.

And John Ellis said said his main concern is the poor air quality in Englewood getting worse due to the rail-yard project.

"Englewood has been my home for 25 years and I do not want to see anymore damage come to it," Ellis said as he struggled to stop coughing. "I have had a bad cough for three years and my doctors cannot figure out what's wrong with me. I have never smoked and I do not drink but I can't stop coughing. Gee, I wonder why?"

Construction is already underway for the Englewood "flyover" bridge project and Jones said the rail yard expansion would tie into the bridge project.

"The flyover bridge project is all about making it easier for trains to pass through Englewood. Fumes from those trains have not made things better," added Jones. "Now the city has approved another construction project in Englewood that will undoubtedly do more damage to the environment. I am not cool with that."