Last month, Norfolk Southern received approval from the Chicago City Council to proceed with construction of a major long-planned rail yard expansion near Inglewood.
Two days later, the Norfolk Southern Railroad derailed and burst into flames near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.half of a nearby town had to evacuate for days Responders intentionally burned toxic chemicals in a portion of the derailed vehicle to prevent an uncontrolled explosion, leaving residents with health concerns.
Over the next few weeks, the railroad had another derailment, this time without dangerous goods involved, a collision at work in which the conductor died. A lawsuit was filed and the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Railroad Administration launched an investigation into the company’s organization and safety culture.
No recent crashes or derailments have occurred in Chicago, and the company remains committed to the long-running South Side project, which has been underway for 15 years and required the acquisition of hundreds of homes in the area. says there is. But the fallout could open the door to further backlash, observers said.
In Inglewood, the plan was ultimately unsuccessful after years of opposition from residents who wanted to stop the sale of bulldozed blocks and houses on blocks. More recently, as plans have progressed, some have turned their attention to ensuring jobs and quality of life for local residents.
“Job, contract and opportunity are the keywords,” said Bob Israel of Inglewood.
Norfolk Southern has for years launched a $150 million plan to double the size of its intermodal freight yard at 47th Street and Dan Ryan, a key stop on the high-speed rail line connecting Chicago to the East Coast. I have pursued. The company describes the project as “building on Chicago’s role as the center of his chain of U.S. supplies.”
The plan garnered support from politicians, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Mayor Lightfoot defended the project as a means to keep industry jobs alive after decades of decline, and praised Norfolk for his efforts to engage local residents in the Southern region.
In February, aldermen approved a significant portion of a plan to transfer ownership of the city’s streets and alleys to the railroad. • Blamed Southern, but said the community had decided to abandon it.
But industry analyst and consultant Anthony Hatch said the company’s recent string of high-profile derailments and crashes could open the door for further backlash.
“If I were against expanding this garden, I would use it,” he said.
Scrutiny should not affect expansion, he said. The larger the yard, the more trains can be moved off the working track and the more work can be done in private space. It also means more freight business taking business off the country’s roads, though tough on people living next to railroad facilities, he said.
Taylor, 20, said Norfolk Southern’s recent derailment confirmed how she feels about the company.
“It lets me know I was right about them,” she said.
Her focus is on local air quality and ensuring that the community around the rail yard is supported. She wants to hold the company accountable for rehabilitating the roads and infrastructure it uses, and to conduct an annual study of the impact of railroad trains and trucks on neighbors.
“All they did was help kill another black community,” she said.
Israel, which has said it has been involved in efforts against the expansion of the Norfolk Southern Railway for nearly a decade, said the first problem with the expansion was the railroad’s takeover of homes. But now that it has happened, he hopes the community business will be awarded a construction contract.
Since 2014, Norfolk Southern has directly employed 50 employees who live in Englewood and surrounding zip codes, railroad officials said at a community meeting in January.
As of January, 20 people in seven Southside zip codes were actively employed, Norfolk Southern spokesman Connor Spielmaker said in an email. It does not include employees who may have since left the area or who were contracted through the vendor that operates the railroad facilities.
Norfolk Southern directly employs about 450 people throughout the Chicago area, he said.
The company has an $85 million construction contract for the expansion of the rail yard. In a letter to city councilors, company officials said it would exceed the city’s contracting goals of 24 percent of construction contracts going to minority-owned businesses and 4 percent going to women-owned businesses.
It is important for Israel to ensure that contracts are awarded to residents of Englewood, or at least businesses on the South Side. For example, excavations are currently underway, he said.
“We got some locals who can carry dirt,” he said.
Spielmaker said part of the company’s commitment to moving forward with the expansion includes “keeping the promises it made to its community.” Once the construction plans were finalized, Norfolk Southern, a Chicago-based diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm, hired Trinal to help deliver on its commitment to working with a diverse range of local contractors. did, he said.
Aciha Butler, CEO of RAGE, the association of residents of Greater Inglewood, said members of the community had long distrusted Norfolk Southern since it began acquiring property in the area. The recent digression didn’t surprise her because the company wasn’t a good corporate neighbor, she said.
“People still remember the disrespect they received from companies, thinking they were expanding into our community for profit and not really an investment,” she said. “None of these money, jobs, or opportunities really came to fruition here at Englewood.”
She wanted Norfolk Southern to come under national scrutiny as they expanded to become better actors in their neighborhoods.
Contributed by Associated Press.