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Dist. 1 residents protest train noise
CP encroached on city land
With Canadian Pacific Railroad wanting to make changes to its Pig’s Eye switching yard, nearby residents are hoping to put pressure on the company to reduce squealing brake noise and diesel fumes coming from idling train engines.
Since the railroad has to go through processes with the city, residents are petitioning in hopes of gaining leverage against the rail noise and pollution that some residents living near the switching yard deal with on a daily basis.
The switching yard is near the intersection of Point Douglas Road and Highway 61, and not far from Pig’s Eye Lake.
Residents “are clamoring at my door about the idling engines, diesel fumes and the noise,” said Betsy Leach, director of the District 1 Community Council, where the switching yard lies. They’ve been doing so for years.
Leach said that because freight rail is primarily regulated by the federal government, it has been difficult to get the company to act on a local level.
“Basically, the railroads don’t answer to anybody,” she said.
Ed Greenberg, spokesperson for Canadian Pacific, said the Pig’s Eye switching yard is one of the company’s “main yards for our North American network.”
Greenberg said the company is looking at a potential project to improve efficiencies at the yard.
As part of that, the company will need to work with the city of St. Paul to get approval for the project, he said.
Perhaps complicating that matter, Canadian Pacific encroached on city-owned property in the spring of 2011, Greenberg and the city confirmed.
As part of emergency flood measures, the company built temporary emergency flood berms. In 2012, the railroad company asked the city to allow it to make the berms permanent.
As part of that process, the berms were found to be on one-fourth acre of land owned by St. Paul Parks and Recreation, according to Brad Meyer, spokesperson for the department.
Meyer said the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections and other staff are now researching whether the berms were built in accordance with city permit processes. Pending that, the city could move forward with a formal transfer of land to Canadian Pacific, Meyer said.
Meyer said that it was unclear why the encroachment occurred, but said it appears to have been a misunderstanding. He said it was unclear whether fines against the railroad would be imposed as a result of the encroachment.
Greenberg said city and Canadian Pacific are working out the encroachment issue as part of the switching yard redesign process.
Loud and dirty
Barry Farrell, an East Sider who lives near yard, said that as it stands now, the area “is really loud, and it really stinks,” he said. “It’s just not a good place to live.”
Farrell and his wife bought a home in the area three years ago, and almost immediately realized the issues the area had with freight-related noise.
“We were obviously aware the trains were there, but clearly didn’t understand the issue at hand,” he said. If he and his wife had understood it, they wouldn’t have bought a house there.
“It’s one of those things that affects you day after day,” he said.
In the summer, Farrell said he has two options in regards to freight trains’ high-pitched braking noises: open the windows and deal with the noise, or close the windows and deal with the heat.
Farrell said that he’s heard from neighbors wishing they could sell their homes and move away.
“All you have to do is spend a half hour in that area and say ‘Nope, I don’t want to live here.’ That’s how bad it is,” he said.
East Sider Tom Brown said he’s been struggling with noise issues for six years.
Brown also lives near the intersection of Point Douglas Road and Highway 61.
He said he saw an uptick in the amount of noise last fall, and has routinely called Canadian Pacific to complain of braking noise and fumes.
“The pollution coming from the trains is just so terrible,” he said. “You can smell it.”
Brown suspects selling his home would be a challenge because of the noise.
Sometimes, “it almost drops you to your knees,” he said.
Following a series of meetings in District 1 starting in December 2013, a group of residents including Farrell set to the streets to get signatures for a petition, in hopes of putting pressure on the railroad and federal legislators who write the freight rail regulations.
With city approval needed for the rail yard’s redesign, the timing seemed like it could work, Leach explained. The petition has now gained around 100 signatures.
The petition requests that Canadian Pacific work with neighbors to reduce the impact of freight shipping out of the Pig’s Eye yard on their daily lives.
It cites recent increased traffic at the switching yard as a source of neighborhood woes.
It also asks that federal legislators take action to change noise regulation laws to include the loud braking noises that nearby residents endure.
Neighbors previously reached a solution for rail noise at the yard in the 1990s, the document states.
But in 2006, it was back, and more recently is compounded by idling engine fumes.
“The squealing has increased in intensity and frequency since 2006, and additional noise and diesel fumes from idling engines have become a problem in 2013,” the petition states.
The document also cites concerns with federal regulations -- the current rules, put in place in the 1970s, don’t properly address braking noise, nor its health impacts, it states.
Reaching out to railroad
As part of the community’s efforts to work out residents’ concerns with Canadian Pacific, the community has tried to line up meetings with the company, Leach said.
Originally, a meeting was scheduled for January, which was canceled. Another meeting was rescheduled and then also canceled, and the community council hasn’t heard back about another date since then, she said.
“They are not responding,” she said.
Greenberg said Canadian Pacific has historically “taken steps to adjust our operations to address questions and concerns that have been raised by some local residents.”
As part of the potential redesign project, Greenberg said the company would look at ways to address train congestion and idling, and noise related to switching operations.
Canadian Pacific announced in January that the company had a record year in 2013. Total revenues were $6.1 billion, an 8 percent increase for the company.
Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.