In 1996, the New York State Legislature passed legislation to shut down Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island by 2001. In December of 1996, the Daily News reported Queens Borough President Claire Shulman’s move to stop the New York & Atlantic Railway takeover of the Long Island Rail Road’s freight rail operations. Shulman’s prescient concern was that their business plan “will allow for the shipment of noxious household and commercial garbage from Long Island to and through Queens County, and is contrary to public health and safety.”

In March 1997, the Daily News reported that Shulman and the railroads had come to terms. The railroads agreed not to establish any waste transfer stations in Queens, and not to delay movement through Queens of any rail cars containing solid waste. They also promised that waste-by-rail would be shipped in sealed containers to prevent odors and litter escaping from rail cars.

However, by 2009, after a 10-year moratorium on waste-by-rail expired, all these promises were broken. Vented rail cans filled with Municipal Solid Waste emitted nauseating odors and attracted vectors daily in neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. To this day, rail gondolas of crushed Construction & Demolition Debris without solid covers and with drains in the bottom of the cars emit waste spillage, blowoff, leachate, and odors by homes, schools, and parks. From Ridgewood in Queens to Stillwater, NY rail cars of putrescible waste that are damaged or stored too long in a railyard emit a stench that “smells like death”.

Since this new industry started up in 2008, communities have been protesting how railroads handle waste-by-rail. It’s not a small problem. Waste & Scrap is New York State’s and freight rail’s #1 export by tonnage. During all this time, because of loopholes in federal and state law, railroads have been free to decide how they handle it. Senate and Assembly Members sponsored legislation to end problems during seven sessions of the NYS Legislature. Until 2023, Railroads of New York lobbyists successfully opposed legislation.

However, in 2023, Assembly Member Jennifer Rajkumar and Senator Joe Addabbo sponsored “Put A Lid On It” legislation that passed in both Chambers. The Assembly vote was unanimous. Members from across NYS spoke of their constituents’ burdens from waste-by-rail.

Governor Hochul can end the public health and safety problems Claire Shulman knew were coming 25 years ago by signing A4928/S2022 — the “Put A Lid On It” legislation. Communities have been waiting for 14 years. It can’t happen soon enough.


Mary Arnold is a Co-Founder of Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions, a nonprofit that has worked to modernize freight rail equipment and operations in the NYC region since 2009. CURES is a Member of the Queens Solid Waste Advisory Board and the US EPA Mobile Sources Technical Review Subcommittee.