Legislators raise, officials reject 3rd track freight questions

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A New York & Atlantic Railway freight train is pictured in Jamaica, Queens in 2007. (Photo by Adam E. Moreira via Wikimedia Commons)

Four Nassau County legislators asked the Long Island Rail Road last week to study a plan to remove waste from Long Island on freight trains in the context of its proposed third track project.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is considering whether to grant Green Rail Transfer, a company based in upstate Queensbury, permission to transfer municipal waste from trucks to train cars at a freight transfer facility in Holtsville, according to a public DEC notice outlining the plan. Freight trains would carry up to 900 tons of waste off Long Island each day on LIRR tracks.

The railroad should revise its draft environmental impact statement for its $2 billion expansion project to include analysis of the Green Rail Transfer plan and hold another public hearing on the project, Republican county legislators Richard Nicolello of New Hyde Park, Vincent Muscarella of West Hempstead, Laura Schaefer of Westbury and Rose Marie Walker of Hicksville wrote in a March 7 letter to the LIRR.

“It is not difficult to envision that the main line, with its enhanced capacity from the 3rd Track, will become a highway for moving enormous amounts of waste through our communities,” the letter says.

The LIRR is finalizing an environmental study of the $2 billion project, which would build a third track along 9.8 miles of its Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville, a key stretch that carries about 40 percent of the railroad’s daily ridership.

A draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, was released in November, followed by a public comment period that included six hearings before closing on Feb. 15.

Those comments will be incorporated into a final environmental impact statement the LIRR will issue later this year.

The legislators’ letter continues local officials’ criticism of the LIRR’s study as procedurally flawed, despite the railroad’s community outreach efforts. And it echoes project opponents’ worries about freight train traffic being a surreptitious impetus for the project.

But both the LIRR and the New York & Atlantic Railway, the sole freight company that uses LIRR tracks, reject any relationship between the third track and increased freight business.

New York & Atlantic opposes the Green Rail Transfer plan, and Eric Jakubowski, its chief commercial officer, sent a letter to the DEC outlining its concerns, John Casellini, a company spokesman, said in an email.

“The DEIS for this project studied freight traffic thoroughly and makes clear that freight will not increase because of this project,” Shams Tarek, a third track project spokesman, said in an email. “The DEC’s proposal has its own separate permitting process.”

Under Green Rail Transfer’s plan, up to 900 tons of waste each day would be baled, wrapped in a biodegradable film and moved into train cars covered with a hard top.

At least 10 train cars would move out of the Holtsville transfer facility each day, according to the DEC’s outline of the plan.

Because it is a “research, development and demonstration proposal,” the DEC would give it a one-year trial if approved, according to a Long Island Business News article from February. But the Town of Islip, which would have to approve the new use for the Holtsville facility, also opposes it, the Business News reported.

In an interview, Nicolello said he worries that trainloads of trash rolling through Main Line communities could have a negative impact on property values and the environment.

A third track, combined with the expansion of the Brookhaven Rail Terminal in Yaphank, could “exponentially increase” the railroad’s capacity to carry freight, so the LIRR should explicitly evaluate Green Rail Transfer’s plan to haul more through the corridor, NIcolello said.

“The capacity, both on the railroad and in these locations in Suffolk, is going to be there,” Nicolello said. “So at a minimum they should look at it.”

But Casellini, the New York & Atlantic spokesman, said the third track project has no bearing on the railway’s plans for growth.

Using data from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, the draft environmental impact statement projects that New York & Atlantic won’t need to run any more than its existing three round-trip trains until at least 2040.

The company has no plans to haul more municipal waste, and can just add more cars to existing trains to accommodate its plans to carry more edible goods and building materials, Casellini said in an email.

“We understand that opponents of the project claim there is an understatement of what the increased capacity for freight traffic could be on the Main Line, but the facts [do] not support that conclusion at all,” Casellini said.

Green Rail Transfer did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story.

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