Home LIRR In Long Island City, it’s gentrification vs. train yard

In Long Island City, it’s gentrification vs. train yard

by Benjamin Kabak

Long Island City hasn’t always been the next frontier of gentrification and development in Queens as it is today. In fact, for much of its history, it’s been an industrial neighborhood that has served as the staging grounds for the Long Island Rail Road and many other area train lines. Now, though, as rents increase, luxury buildings go up and the area grows, residents are upset with idling trains.

As New York 1 reports, some new residents have called upon the MTA to power down their trains because the idling is driving them nuts. “It’s really horrible. I mean, like I wake up to this noise every morning,” Lillian Marchena said.

The news station’s Queens reporter Ruschell Boone had more:

Over the last two years, the LIRR has turned off some of the engines during the day and placed some trains in other parts of the rail yard as part of a compromise, but some residents said the noise is starting to increase again. “From 7:30 in the morning ’til 5:30 at night, Monday through Friday,” said Community Board 2 Chairman Joe Conley.

It is a harsh reality for new residents moving to the once-industrial area. The rail yard has been there for more than 100 years, but residents want the diesel engines turned off during the day. LIRR spokesperson Joe Calderone said while the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been addressing some of the community’s concerns, shutting down all the trains during the day is not going to be possible.

“It can take up to two hours to get it started again. If you shut it off for a four-hour period, you need to do a brake test under federal rules,” said Calderone. “Those are just a couple of the reasons we can’t just shut them off and turn them back on.”

Calderone noted that the LIRR will try to power down more trains as temperatures increase. They don’t have the same need to keep the trains warm during nicer days, but federal safety rules and timing concerns are driving the idling.

Meanwhile, as the East Side Access project moves forward, train-related noise will only increase for Long Island City residents. Within the next five years, more trains will head into Grand Central via the area and the rail yard will continue to serve as a holding pen for eastbound trains. For a century, as New Yorkers eschewed the area, the trains weren’t a problem, but with gentrification comes complaints. Unfortunately, for residents though, the train yard isn’t going anywhere.

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MaximusNYC April 21, 2011 - 12:13 pm

Welcome to your “luxury” condo right next to a train yard. What did you expect?

Matt April 22, 2011 - 10:51 am

There’s only like 3 condos on Borden by the Diesel Yard anyway. I work on the other side of the yard and walk by these condos everyday. If this was something new maybe I understand, but there’s a reason the property was so cheap!

Walter April 21, 2011 - 12:15 pm

I love these stories. It’s like the people who buy houses next to grade crossings and complain about the bells and train horns. Did you not see it there when you bought the place?

Chris G April 21, 2011 - 12:15 pm

These people are stupid. Same ones who complain after they buy the bargain house near the airport.

Why anyone listens to them is beyond reason.

R2 April 21, 2011 - 12:33 pm

Agreed! I live in the neighborhood but not near the yard for good reason. Also, consider the noise a check on prices. Keeps them relatively affordable 😉

Joe Steindam April 21, 2011 - 12:35 pm

I wish that was the case, something tells me nothing is going to stop the prices from continuously going up. The proximity to the river is too great.

Joe Steindam April 21, 2011 - 12:34 pm

They should probably be complaining to their building first to provide better windows that block more of the noise. That’s pretty standard elsewhere for residential construction near train yards (Hoboken comes to mind).

JoshK April 21, 2011 - 12:55 pm

This is a regular complaint of the Yuppies who live in my hometown of Croton-on-Hudson, which is home to MTA Metro-North’s biggest railyard and shops, the Harmon Maintenance Facility. In the 1960’s when the PennCentral RR was hard up for cash, they sold off a bunch of riverfront property that had been part of the yards. A real estate developer bought the land and built a series of condos on it.

So when these Yuppies move up here into thos condos, they don’t ever seem to notice the HUGE rail yard and repair shops IN THEIR BACKYARD. The place is lit up like the sun at night, the railroad even used to idle the diesel locomotives right next to the fence on the property line (which was during the same era that the MTA was suing GE over those very same locomotives being too loud). Now granted, the place is pretty empty and quiet during the day, but you’d think they might ask the realtor about that big industrial looking thing behind the condo.

Jerrold April 21, 2011 - 1:30 pm

Hmmm, I wonder what was the connection, if any, between that matter and the closing of one of the stations.
There used to be TWO stations around there, Croton-Harmon and Croton North.

Walter April 21, 2011 - 8:18 pm

Nah, the stations closed north of Croton (Crugers and Montrose) were closed because it was too difficult to lengthen their platforms, so Cortlandt was built instead.

Metro-North has a similar problem up in Peekskill, where condos have been built right next to the tracks and station, and where the denizens like to complain about the train horns (FRA requires horns at a grade crossing). I know an engineer who purposely sounds the horn early just to rub it in.

Jerrold April 21, 2011 - 8:51 pm

But wasn’t there once a staion CALLED “Croton North”?

Jerrold April 21, 2011 - 1:21 pm

This issue reminds me of when a much worse thing happened:
The explosion that destroyed the Grucci fireworks factory.

Afterward, there were a lot of people saying, “Why did they allow a fireworks factory so close to people’s homes?”.
But then it turned ot that the factory had been bult in the 1930’s in an area that was a wilderness at that time.
So the REAL question turned out to be, “Why did they allow homes to be built so close to a fireworks factory?”.

A somewhat similar issue concerns homes in New Jersey in areas that have gotten flooded many times.

Somebody once said, “Why do they build houses in riverbeds?”.
In other words, if an area seems to always having floods, it makes more sense to consider that area as a part of the riverbed that is usually dry, RATHER THAN an area of land that gets floods frequently.

Larry Littlefield April 21, 2011 - 1:38 pm

I don’t think Eastside Access will make the problem worse, as those will be electric trains and the complaints are about diesels.

There would be even fewer diesels if Long Island NIMBY’s hadn’t killed an electrification and yard project on the Port Jefferson line.

Eric F. April 22, 2011 - 9:27 am

Good point! There is still quite a bit of LIRR line that is not electrified and quite a bit that is a single track.

Alon Levy April 22, 2011 - 3:47 pm

I don’t understand why there are NIMBY complaints about electrification specifically. With third rail, there’s no extra visual impact, and if the trains are long EMUs then level crossings are okay. Chances are the locals complained about extra tracks, yards, and grade separation instead.

ajedrez April 22, 2011 - 4:41 pm

Why would they complain about grade separation? That means the trains don’t have to sound their horn as they travel by.

Alon Levy April 22, 2011 - 5:36 pm

Grade separations often involve elevated structures. On the San Francisco Peninsula, the NIMBYs just got the local Congressional representative to declare opposition to grade-separation unless the HSR authority pays to put the railroad underground.

AZ May 29, 2012 - 8:29 am

This is an interesting convo, not what I expected but I can see where people are coming from. However, I would like to bring the perspective of somebody who lives on Borden, right in front of the train yard. For starters, we looked at the apt at night and their was no trains, so I didn’t realize they would be sitting their idling all day long, secondly I work from home so I just so happen to be exposed all day long, but lastly and MOST importantly diesel fumes running all day long is toxic for the entire neighborhood and for our community, I have a young daughter and to think that we’re living on top of a yard that emits toxic fumes all day is a little unsettling.

Just thought I’d share a different perspective on this matter.

pbug56 June 17, 2012 - 2:57 pm

You are right about PJ, except that LIRR carefully came up with the worst possible sites that it could ‘dig up’. One of them was next to a lot of homes and very near an elementary school. Another would have required filling in a deep valley at huge expense. Etc. Every spot very carefully picked to cause the most harm. And LIRR apparently did not plan to double track to the yard from Huntington, so there would have been far more frequent backups at crossings, and on some days far less train service when a junker would break down in one track territory between the yard and Huntington. No, what they needed to do was doubletrack and electrify out to PJ, get all the smelly noisy diesels out of that yard. Oh, and put back the track all the way out to Wading River with a quiet ‘scoot’ DMU (a couple cars only).

John S. April 21, 2011 - 1:49 pm

““From 7:30 in the morning ’til 5:30 at night, Monday through Friday,” said Community Board 2 Chairman Joe Conley.”

These times are quite reasonable. It seems the MTA has done everything they can (without severely disrupting operations) to be a good neighbor and accommodate the few residents in that area. Most people are away from their homes at these hours anyways. I can’t open my windows at home during the day because I can’t bear the irregular shrieks of children playing at the playground across the street. Do I ask them to be silent and take it to the playground 2 blocks away?

ajedrez April 21, 2011 - 3:16 pm

That isn’t the MTA (intentionally, at least) trying to accomodate them. It is simple: The trains are stored off-peak, and they are taken out of service at the end of the AM rush hour, and put back into service at the beginning of the PM rush our.

Matt April 22, 2011 - 10:52 am

Seriously – why aren’t these people at work?

Bolwerk April 21, 2011 - 2:06 pm

These people embody everything that is wrong with New York City politics: stupidity, laziness, entitlement, and narcissism.

Al D April 21, 2011 - 2:42 pm

Maybe they should have paid attention to the train yard next door when they first looked at their now apartments. Or maybe the broker told them that yard was going to be closing ‘soon’.

BBnet3000 April 21, 2011 - 4:25 pm

These things come up way too often with idiots living near rail lines. Hasn’t that train yard been there since the time when Nassau county was mostly farmland? Hasnt it been there since before the East River tunnels?

Researcher April 21, 2011 - 4:49 pm

At what time of the day or week did these people go to look at their apartments before they bought them?

Donald April 21, 2011 - 5:22 pm

I have ZERO sympathy for the people complaing about the yard. They knew it was there when they bought. It’s not like it was a park and it got turned into a yard overnight.

And even if the MTA powers down their trains, that does not mean there won’t be any noise, as Amtrak and NJ Transit also use that yard.

Alon Levy April 21, 2011 - 5:42 pm

Yes, those are NIMBY assholes. They’re still right. Diesel trains do not have to idle (and shouldn’t even exist in Long Island, but that’s another story). EMUs are very quiet, and I doubt the residents even notice them. Similarly, grade crossings do not need to feature loud horns, outside FRA-land.

Frank B. April 21, 2011 - 5:47 pm

Here’s a plan: Once they open East Side Access up in a few years, there will be a largely increased number of trains into Manhattan; half going into Grand Central, and half going into Pennsylvania. (Or Moynihan, at that point.) Instead of routing diesel trains from Montauk Branches, to Long Island City, simply have them run to Jamaica and have them terminate there, for easy transfers to the East and West Sides. Then, since there will no longer be diesel trains running to Long Island City, sell or lease the air rights over the yards; this will generate tremendous revenue, while lowering the costs of sending Montauk trains to Long Island City (It is important to note that LIC will still be served by electrified trains terminating there.)

Even if you cannot sell the air rights, which I highly doubt in gentrifying LIC, you can still save money by not running trains all the way to LIC, and solve the noise problem as well.

al April 21, 2011 - 6:36 pm

Sunnyside yards is AMTRAK. Funds for Northeast HSR?

Donald April 21, 2011 - 9:33 pm

How does running trains to Jamaica save money? What about the NJ Transit and Amtrak trains that go to NJ? LIC is much closer to NJ than Jamaica.

Henry April 21, 2011 - 10:23 pm

And where would those diesel trains be stored? I highly doubt there’s any spare capacity in Jamaica for storing trains, and building a new yard would probably be more trouble than it’s worth.

J B April 21, 2011 - 11:39 pm

If they’re so upset, why don’t they do us all a favor and whine to the FRA instead of the MTA?

matt April 22, 2011 - 4:26 am

i agree with all of you – what the @#$% were these idiots looking at when they signed the lease? i’m not even going into details. ben, find out who’s complaining, they can drive their car with $4.30 a gallon gas in texas and i’ll take their posh condo in LIC

John-2 April 22, 2011 - 10:51 am

There’s also the possibility of decking over the LIRR yard to eliminate the noise, and selling the air rights to developers for more condos, which in turn would pay for the construction of a building to vent the diesel fumes out of the now-underground area (as long as the Yuppies don’t know about that, they’d jump at the chance for even more riverside views of the Manhattan skyline from LIC, minus the noise factor from the idling locomotives).


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