The Upper Chichester Planning Commission, last week, voted unanimously to delay action on a request by CSX to expand its automobile intake facility in the township.
After hearing testimony from representatives of CSX and residents, Planning Commission Chairman James Renner motioned to refrain from voting until the rail transportation company provides additional information and takes action on issues that concern the community.
“Property developers have rights, persons who sell properties have rights, and people who live in the area have rights,” said Renner. “But, the overriding obligation a planning board has is to the health and welfare of the community. To date, it is obvious, at least to myself, that CSX has not made an effort to be good neighbors. When you block our roadways and prevent emergency vehicles, police offices and ambulances from being able to circulate, it is not acceptable to throw your hands in the air and say, ‘Oh well, it’s because we are running a big business.’”
Renner said he wants something in writing before voting yes for expansion of the facility. He said he wants “real commitments” about what CSX is going to do to give the township relief from the noise, train engines idling, and other issues.
“Engines idling for 20 hours at a time, are you kidding me?” Renner exclaimed loudly. “How dare you do that next to someone’s home. There has to be a better way. So, roll your sleeves up, think about it and come to us with solutions.”
CSX proposes to develop six acres of undeveloped property adjacent to its existing 80-acre facility to better handle volume of new vehicles being shipped to the Mid-Atlantic region. Plans include paving 3.6 acres of that property to create more areas to stage new automobiles while they are being processed at the facility.
CSX representatives told the Planning Commission the expansion will speed up processing and reduce daytime blockages at the Meetinghouse Road crossing. Train operations will shift to daytime hours, thus reducing the impact on area drivers.
In addition, according to CSX, the proposed expansion will improve existing volume of shipments and deliver community benefits sooner.
On Monday, during a special commissioners meeting, several residents told stories of not being able to open their windows, being subjected to excessive noise and fumes, and having local roads blocked by idling trains.
“The damage you are doing environmentally up and down the eastern seaboard is going to become astronomical,” Michelle Lewis said. “I have lived here 62 years and it has only gotten worse. Those black tanker cars roll past my house in the middle of the night and you don’t think I see them, but I see them all the time. They wake me up constantly. You are hauling dangerous chemicals. We need to come to some consensus on this before a train derails in Twin Oaks.”
Jim Finley, whose family owns Cardile’s Farmer’s Market, said he has letters from CSX that are 29 years-old.
“Enough is enough,” Finley said. “Our business is losing money because of the rail line. I have called you constantly and nothing has happened. This will be our last year in business because of this situation.”
Finley said previously that his family’s only option is to sell their home because of CSX trains idling for hours, sometimes all night long.
And Joe Hemighaus, whose 22 year-old son was killed in a train accident in 2006, told CSX representatives that the trains are traveling through residential areas and people’s feelings should be respected.
“My main concern is the speed of the trains,” said Hemighaus. “After my son was killed, all I was told was they were sorry and I have to live with this. This is a residential area and no way does the train go 51 miles an hour. When my son got hit, the train did not stop. He was thrown 1,000 feet. Please obey the residential areas and at a safe speed.”
At Thursday’s meeting, Rev. Robert Brooks said his house is located directly off the main tracks and he is unable to open his windows when he sleeps at night.
“The locomotives park right in front of my house,” he said. “I moved out of the city to Upper Chichester because I wanted to raise my kids in a nice place with a good school district. We do not pay taxes to hear trains.”
Among other things, residents are requesting a drastic reduction in idling, the erection of an effective sound barrier, and a halt to blocking roadways.
Second Ward Commissioner Nicole Whitaker thanked the Planning Commission for hearing the residents’ concerns.
“When I went home on Monday night from the meeting, the train was right outside my house, so close that I could touch it,” Whitaker said. “It’s really important that CSX takes the information and comes back with some concrete plans.”
Renner told CSX to avoid an automatic rejection, they must file a request for an extension. The board has 90 days to either approve or deny the proposal and Renner said the process is already 20 days along.