(Or just another NYS Authority and consultant payday?)
Although CURES supports the concept of the Interborough Express Project (IBX), planning and action for the IBX can’t go forward without systemic freight rail planning and action that improve freight movement and reduce adverse impacts of freight rail pollution and noise on residential communities of New York City.
The IBX has been identified by the State of New York as a key priority that will provide a generational investment in regional mobility for New Yorkers. However, the MTA’s transformational plan for passenger transit on the Bay Ridge require a similarly transformational plan for freight rail facilities, movement, and equipment. Bringing one segment of trackage on the Bay Ridge Line into a state of good repair and leaving freight rail planning for the MTA system up to the Port Authority turns a blind eye to how IBX and Cross Harbor Freight impact rail operations and bottlenecks and can make today’s community harms from freight rail worse.
As industries that can use freight rail have dwindled in the NYC area, freight rail facilities have been repurposed for other development, including passenger transit. The IBX, Cross Harbor Freight marine enhancement, and ongoing exponential increase in waste-by-rail export all rely on the fragment of the freight rail system of the 1960s that is left. Planning is siloed. Today the freight rail system hubs around tiny 10-acre Fresh Pond Rail Yard. This area is already a bottleneck, where all freight lines switch and freight coming on and off Long Island is handled. Car storage and freight moves already spill over onto tracks in neighborhoods, including during explosively noisy all-night operations. Freight trains block grade crossings. Photos in the MTA’s IBX feasibility study show two Bay Ridge “storage tracks” for freight rail cars, plus an active freight track. The MTA identifies this track segment as “underutilized” and car storage as a “right-of-way constraint” for passenger rail expansion. Where are those 80 – 90-ft. rail cars supposed to go? Neighborhoods of Queens?!
Other issues that need to be addressed are the 40 noisy, high-polluting Legacy Fleet switch duty cycle freight locomotives working within the MTA system, emitting the NOx pollution of a million cars. The NYS Legislature has provided $25 million for repowering the New York & Atlantic Railway’s freight rail fleet to Tier 4 Switchers but this still hasn’t happened yet — even though it would
eliminate at least 95% of pollution from this fleet. In addition, open rail gondolas of “C&D Residue” emit waste blowoff, leachate, and odors. This needless pollution is being emit- ted in densely populated communities in NYC, where it does the most harm to the most people.
The MTA’s online IBX Feasibility Analysis indicates a potential bottle-neck at the East New York tunnels, which have three portals for three tracks. It totally ignores the operational bottleneck in the Freemont portion just west of the Truss Bridge which spans Fresh Pond Yard and connects the Bay Ridge to CSX- owned tracks. The current operator, the New York & Atlantic Railway, is handling nearly 250 inbound and outbound cars per day and this track- age is vital for processing the inbound cars (via CSX and Providence & Worcester, P&W) and for staging outbound trains (again both CSX and P&W). It appears the study took no account of current usage and the requirements for handling current freight traffic, even as it anticipates more rail freight traffic. The plan ignores another bottleneck – the two-track truss bridge over Fresh Pond yards. Property limitations are certainly a factor, as right next to the truss bridge is a NYTA plate girder bridge which serves the M train.
All the tracks Railroad East of the truss bridge are owned by CSX to the Sunnyside Cutoff, which is the beginning of Amtrak ownership. There is no mention of CSX’s willingness to share tracks or of their desire to sell this property. Significant construction is required, including boring new tunnels under the Lutheran Cemetery, possibly requiring additional “cooperation” from another property owner. The analysis ignores problems associated with CSX- owned trackage.
In their online Feasibility Analysis, the MTA IBX planners repeat the PANY-NJ’s Cross Harbor Freight team’s debunked claims of operating more than 20 additional freight trains a day because of the proposed Cross Harbor rail tunnel. This premise of the rail tunnel and others were debunked in 2015 by the Regional Plan Association, in their Cross Harbor Freight testimony on the tunnel’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The claim of all this additional rail freight with the tunnel is also infeasible based on how intermodal freight works at railroads today.
The IBX planners also repeat a long-discredited rationale for the tunnel: that it will, “…save freight trains from making an up-to- 280-mile detour to cross the Hudson River.” CSX testimony on the tunnel EIS debunked this PANY- NJ Cross Harbor Tunnel Freight team claim. CSX pointed out that the Cross Harbor tunnel planners didn’t understand how rail freight moves through the region. They also told the tunnel planners that CSX has the best route already, and that CSX wouldn’t be using the tunnel unless it experienced an extended emergency. Since CSX has most of the rail freight business in the region, this leaves the PANY-NJ without a major customer to use and pay for a freight rail tunnel. Nonetheless, the tunnel planning continues; a payday for consultants and NYS Authority bureaucrats.
The MTA’s IBX planners have demonstrated responsibility in reaching out to affected communities, including at a public meeting on May 19, 2022. However, confining the IBX project to one segment of the Bay Ridge is unrealistic from the standpoint of rail operations, and will increase harms in communities already overburdened with freight rail pollution, noise, and waste, like those in Queens Community Board 5. A serious planning effort requires integrated transformational planning and action that includes freight and passenger rail, and regional solid waste management planning and action that embrace circularity and sustainability.
Interborough Express Feasibility and Alternatives Analysis, Interim Report, new.mta.info/document/72081
RPA Testimony on Cross Harbor Freight Study, March 22, 2015, rpa.org/ latest/testimony/testimony-on-cross-harbor-freight-study
Why Intermodal Isn’t Everything It’s Cracked Up to Be, Gil Lamphere, Railway Age April 13, 2022