Wrong side of the tracks

Neighbors concerned over reactivation of Park View rail spur

By Mary Johnson
Posted 12/14/16

By MARY JOHNSON Just north of the Pawtuxet River, in the quiet neighborhood of Park View in Cranston, tidy capes with vinyl siding and boxy industrial buildings, sit side by each. It's a multi-generational neighborhood with a strong sense of community,

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Wrong side of the tracks

Neighbors concerned over reactivation of Park View rail spur


Just north of the Pawtuxet River, in the quiet neighborhood of Park View in Cranston, tidy capes with vinyl siding and boxy industrial buildings, sit side by each. It’s a multi-generational neighborhood with a strong sense of community, according to residents.

Where Pearce Avenue dead ends, just north of 1st Avenue, there is a well-worn dirt footpath from Pearce to Koster Street, between First and Second Avenues. Tom Montaquila, whose daughter owns a house on First Street, says the neighborhood kids use the path to cut through the neighborhood to Park View Middle School. What was not immediately obvious until recently, even to people who owned houses in the neighborhood, is that the footpath crosses a train track that runs through the heart of the neighborhood. Unused for several decades and assumed to be condemned by Montaquila and others, the track is a “spur” that extends the Providence Worcester Railroad (PWRR) from the main track off Elmwood Avenue near Elmwood Sports, through a residential neighborhood and across to Park View Avenue. PWRR plans to reopen the spur next year so Safety Kleen can transport used motor oil to and from their storage facility at 167 Mill Street using train cars rather than trucks.

Crews arrived about six weeks ago to remove vegetation, clearing the track for construction crews that began replacing rails about two weeks ago. Safety Kleen has contracted with PWRR to transport motor oil to refineries in Indiana and Ontario Canada.

A crew from Railworks out of Ohio was working on-site Tuesday morning. Jeraime Allison of Railworks said he expects the restoration of the rail spur, including installing ties and rails in some sections of the right of way and asphalting at the crossings at Elmwood Avenue and Park View Boulevard, should be completed in about two months.

Montaquila and Jim Bonner, another First Avenue resident, said people in the neighborhood arrived home one day about six weeks ago to find the shrubs and trees behind their yards leveled. Residents planted much of the landscaping themselves after the trains stopped running sometime in the early 1990s. Bonner said the PWRR track area was overgrown and had “rodent issues” so families took it upon themselves to cut back weeds and overgrowth and plant shrubs and trees, creating a leafy barrier behind their houses.

The damage to the vegetation prompted Park View residents to call Mayor Allan Fung to ask if he knew what was going on. According to Mark Schieldrop, executive assistant to the mayor, the phone calls were the first the mayor heard of the plan to reopen the track, adding it’s a matter that falls under state and federal jurisdiction, not city permitting laws.

Schieldrop says it appears PWRR has done everything by the book. Fung, concerned about the quality of life in the neighborhood, hosted a community meeting that included representatives from Safety Kleen and the PWRR, giving the residents a chance to air their concerns and ask questions. The neighbors have four primary concerns: the safety of children in the neighborhood who have grown up using the track as a “natural path” between the neighborhood and school, according to Bonner; the need for privacy fencing to recreate the visual and noise barrier lost after the trees were removed; soil contamination that they allege may be caused by creosote and other substances lingering in the soil from when it was an active track, and issues relating to quality of life and property values, including vibration and noise nuisances caused by a train traveling within 30 to 50 feet of their homes. In a phone interview, Phillip Rattalik, senior vice president for compliance and regulatory affairs with Clean Harbors, which purchased Safety Kleen about a year ago, said they expect the train will make two or three trips from Elmwood Avenue to the Safety Kleen site a week, sometime during mid-day. Flaggers will ensure the safety of residents at both the Elmwood and Park View crossings.

Rattalik said a rail car can carry 20,000 gallons of fluid, the equivalent of four tanker trucks, and that changing the mode of transportation to rail is a cleaner environmental choice overall, reducing green house gasses and the probability of accidents because fewer trucks are traveling on the roads. Also, the vacuum extraction system used to collect the used automotive fluids from car dealerships, oil change shops and auto parts stores is a vacuum, operated by an operator with USDOT credentials, that moves the fluids from the collection bin to the tanker, limiting exposure to the environment. Concerning neighbor’s allegations of soil contamination, which Bonner and others brought up in conjunction with discussion of the former Ciba Geigy site, Robert Murray, an attorney with Taft McSally in Cranston and general counsel for Safety Kleen, said that the Safety Kleen’s property is across the street from the former Ciba Geigy site, and Safety Kleen has no responsibility for a site they do not own.

Schieldrop said in a phone interview, in response to neighbors concerns about creosote and other chemicals left in the soil from the days when the trains ran frequently, was that the Department of Public Works observed the track replacement process, and there will not be a lot of soil disturbance at the site during the construction process.

Bonner said that at the meeting, representatives of PWRR said that the company expected the line to be profitable within three years. He questioned why PWRR would pour resources into opening this spur for a single company. Noting that there has recently been construction on the building located at the former Ciba Geigy site, across the street from Safety Kleen, Bonner wondered if a deal was in the works to bring another company to the neighborhood that would utilize the rail spur.

Rattalik says Clean Harbors plans to meet more regularly with neighbors to address their concerns, and Fung said he’d ask the tax assessor to review the neighborhood to address any impacts to property values. Schieldrop said the Mayor hopes to keep the lines of communication open and quality of life high for the residents of Cranston while also encouraging business growth.


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