Norfolk Southern Continues Englewood Expansion —But Will The Company Meet Community Demands?


ENGLEWOOD – Norfolk Southern Railway is taking over several South Side streets and alleys to continue rail yard expansion after the City Council passed a long-delayed ordinance on Wednesday.

The ordinance gives the company oversight of the streets and alleys between Garfield Boulevard and 59th Street and between Stewart Avenue and Wallace Street.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced the legislation in July. Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20a), whose ward includes the land, has blocked the measure for months, most recently at a January city council meeting.

Taylor voted for the ordinance Wednesday, saying Norfolk Southern Railway has finally agreed to meet some of the community’s demands.

At the Community meeting in January, neighbors have applied for the rental of the railway locally. Norfolk Southern has employed 50 residents since 2014 from South Side postcodes including Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Hyde Park. But just five employees from those areas “were actively employed as of November 2022,” said Herbert Smith, director of government relations at Norfolk Southern.

Norfolk Southern would also need to address environmental hazards and repair dilapidated roads caused by the weight of the company’s trucks, neighbors said.

Taylor criticized the company for getting “rich off the backs of slaves” but had not previously committed to “give this community the little things it asked for.”

“Now I don’t start this fight, but I’m good at finishing,” Taylor said Wednesday. “…Norfolk Southern and the city have agreed on the terms that the community is asking for, and that’s all I was asking for… I’m only voting “yes” because someone made me keep my word, and I promised this community that I will fight for it and defend it, and they are for it, so they are for it.

However, it is not clear that Norfolk Southern has committed to any of these requests.

In a letter obtained by the TribuneNorfolk Southern officials didn’t mention they did an environmental study, didn’t list any hiring commitments, and said the railroads are monitored by federal, not city, officials. The letter was sent to Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), Chairman of the Board’s Transportation Committee.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) speaks on the expansion of Norfolk Southern at a city council meeting on February 1, 2023.

Norfolk Southern Railway has been working in “phases” since 2013 to build and expand its 47th Street rail yard, the company’s largest in Chicago. Now that the ordinance has been approved, the company will proceed to its third phase to build a truck trailer park at Garfield Boulevard and 59th Street.

Norfolk Southern began its efforts to acquire land on the South Side in 2008. The Virginia-based firm has begun purchasing private homes and tearing them down to make way for the 84-acre project. Company officials said the expansion is necessary because Chicago is a hotspot for freight transportation.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration was sold 105 city-owned vacant lots for $1.1 million to the railroad company from Garfield Boulevard to 61st Street and from Wallace Street to Stewart Avenue.

That patch of land was once home to hundreds of residents that the railway company took over or expelled using the eminent domain to free the earth. “The area,” a 2018 documentary created by sociologist David Schalliolfollowed Englewood residents who have been trying to stop the company’s efforts for six years.

A redevelopment deal signed the same year gave the railway company oversight to close roads and lanes between land owned by the company. The company can permanently close streets to traffic as long as it follows city guidelines.

In 2014, the city agreed to a land swap with the company and acquired a 1.7-mile abandoned railroad line in exchange for more city-owned land near the railroad’s 63rd Street yard. That railroad line north of 59th it will now be the future home of the Englewood Trail.

The redevelopment deal was signed before Taylor took office, he said Wednesday. He is “ashamed” that someone signed the agreement without setting any requirements for community improvement, Taylor said.

“There’s no way in the world they’re in the middle of a black and brown community, and they’re doing the bare minimum,” Taylor said. “And I’m ashamed and I’m almost ashamed that someone signed off on bullshit and didn’t follow through with anything because they didn’t make sure people got jobs in the community. They didn’t make sure they would organize hiring fairs. They didn’t make sure that black people in that community got that contract. What does it say about us?”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Three homes remain standing on 60th Street near Normal Boulevard as land continues to be cleared for the Norfolk Southern Intermodal Yard expansion in Englewood on January 9, 2023.

Brookins praised Taylor for her “tireless defense.”

The 47th Street rail yard expansion is a $100 million project, Brookins said. Norfolk Southern Railway has spent just $15 million so far, Brookins said.

“I’m sure Ms. Taylor will make sure that this $85 million that still needs to be spent, that Norfolk Southern will do good for our communities in hiring and letting people know,” Brookins said. “This is a major project and a much needed project for the vitality of the city of Chicago to get… rail traffic in and out of and around our city.”

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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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