EPA will help curb idling at Spring Valley train yard

(The following story by Laura Incalcaterra appeared on The Journal News website on May 20.)

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it would work to help reduce idling at the Woodbine Train Yard in Spring Valley.

Neighbors have voiced concern about the idling for years, citing diesel pollution from the parked but running locomotives, along with the noise that continues throughout the hours when most people are trying to sleep.

NJ Transit parks 10 trains in the yard, which is on both sides of the tracks that cross Maple Avenue near Parker Street.

Railroad spokesman Dan Stessel, who could not be reached Friday for comment, has said it was likely that some trains would always have to be left idling.

Stessel said the trains need to be turned on so safety inspections that are required by the Federal Railroad Administration can be conducted.

But following a meeting held May 11, it appears a new effort will be made to dramatically curb, if not outright end, idling at the Woodbine yard.

The meeting was organized by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, and drew together representatives of Rep. Eliot Engel, D-Bronx, NJ Transit and Metro-North Railroad along with Spring Valley Mayor George Darden, county Legislator William Darden, D-Spring Valley, and two scientists from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades.

Raymond Werner, the chief of air programs for EPA Region 2, which covers New York, participated via speakerphone.

Jaffee said she felt the outcome was a positive one, especially after the work done by Lamont-Doherty was highlighted.

"The outcome is that it became very clear at this meeting that there's idling going on," Jaffee said.

Neighbor Steve White said the Lamont-Doherty study was helping to make a difference when it came to NJ Transit's idling practice.

"It's infuriating that we had to come in with a scientific study before they would admit that," White said.

White is a member of Spring Valley Concerned Citizens, which formed several years ago to fend off the establishment of a new bus depot in the village.

Neighbors have since turned their attention to the train yard, and said the pollution and the noise began to worsen about eight years ago when NJ Transit started parking more trains there.

White and Jaffee both said that the EPA insisted during the meeting that NJ Trains come up with a timetable or plan to help reduce any idling.

"EPA was very, very strict on that," White said. "They were surprised to learn that there was idling all night, as was most everyone in the room."

Lamont-Doherty geochemists James Ross and Steve Chillrud studied air quality around the Woodbine yard. They reported that results showed that residents were correct when they said trains were running overnight.

"At their worst times in Spring Valley, it's like living in the Bronx all the time," Ross has said.

Werner, of the EPA, was out of the office Friday and could not be reached.

But Mike Moltzen, who works with Werner and is leader of EPA Region 2's Mobile Sources Team addressing air-quality issues, said action would be taken.

"We do intend to work with NJ Transit to help them find a solution to reduce the amount of time they idle the locomotive engines," Moltzen said.

He said he expected a favorable working relationship with the agency.

"We don't anticipate anything but good cooperation from NJ Transit," Moltzen said.

When Moltzen appeared before the Rockland County Legislature's Environmental Committee last month, he said that trains in general could be outfitted with auxiliary power units, automatic stop-start devices and power grid hookups to ease the need for idling.

Jaffee said a timetable for improvements from NJ Transit could include a list of steps the agency intended to take concerning technical upgrades or operational changes.

Jaffee said participants were working cooperatively, rather than antagonistically, to find a solution to the idling.

She also noted that less idling could mean a financial savings for NJ Transit, so changes could benefit the agency as well as the community.

"They may spend some money upfront, but they'll save money if there's less idling," Jaffee said.

White said he felt participants thought the meeting was a positive one, and he said NJ Transit told those present it was working to address any problems.

White commended the elected officials and others who have been working to address the idling, a commitment he said had been lacking on the part of others in the past.

"We all left with a strong feeling of hope," he said. "Now we'll keep watching to see what happens."

Monday, May 21, 2007
bentley@ble-t.org

http://www.ble-t.org/pr/news/headline.asp?id=18680

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