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updated: 9/19/2013 7:56 PM

Deal reached to cut pollution from South Side rail yard

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Associated Press

Chicago and Norfolk Southern officials agreed Thursday to cut diesel pollution from a rail yard on the city's South Side to address residents' concerns that a massive expansion project would add to existing air pollution and cause health problems.

The 140-acre freight yard in Englewood, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, transfers more than 480,000 containers a year between trains and trucks. The company wants to add another 85 acres and another 800 diesel trucks a day, and is buying land from the city and residents.

Under the agreement, Norfolk Southern will install the newest pollution controls on trucks that move trailers around the yard by 2018 and install clean engines or diesel filters on cranes and lift trucks, while the city will alleviate congestion from the semi-trucks that sometimes queue on local roadways waiting to get into the yard.

The company also will set up a $ 1 million fund for neighborhood environmental projects and spend another $1 million on job training and economic development, officials from the city and Environmental Law & Policy Center said. It also will donate an old elevated rail track that the city will convert into green space.

"This agreement will put Englewood on the map as a place where the community stood up, the city listened and the railroad came to the table to find a better way," said resident John Paul Jones, co-founder of a community group called Sustainable Englewood Initiatives.

He was one of several residents who last week installed two pollution monitors to sample the air around the Norfolk Southern yard, where about a dozen freight trains and more than 1,200 semi-trucks load and unload every day, to prove that the air was already polluted.

ELPC senior attorney Faith Bugel said it's unclear whether that monitoring will continue.

Diesel emissions include harmful chemicals and microscopic particles that can lodge deep in the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing respiratory and heart problems. The issue of pollution from locomotives has been raised across the country, as rail traffic increases and yards expand.

"We were pleased to participate in reaching an agreement that benefits the community, stimulates the economy and provide jobs," said Norfolk Southern spokesman Robin Chapman. "We are looking forward to getting started on the expansion project."

Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner for Chicago's Department of Housing and Economic Development, said the agreement "will serve to provide the framework for a very successful economic development project."

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