June 25, 2007

Trucks, Trains and Union County

Arlo Guthrie romanticized the freight train in his song The City of New Orleans painting the idyllic picture of 2 conductors and 25 sacks of mail rumbling past farms, fields and the grave yard of the rusted automobile.

Well, North Avenue, Route 28, doesn’t have any farms, fields or junk yards; what it has are homes, apartments and a proliferation of retail businesses as well as office buildings, this goes for South Avenue as well, at least through Union County. But it also has the Raritan Valley Rail Line, currently a commuter line transporting thousands, daily to their workplaces in New York City and other business hubs along the way.

Commuters are dropped off or park their cars at train station lots in Westfield and Cranford among other towns in the early morning hours and in the evening whole car loads of spouses with young children can be seen waiting in the family vehicle for their loved one to disembark for the return to their homes in the burbs, an expensive life style but worth it none the less.

The truth be told most central Union County residents paid little attention to the brouhaha going on to the east of them when the county Freeholder Board started the process of reactivating freight lines adjacent to the back yards of the residents in nearby Roselle, Kenilworth, Roselle Park, Springfield and Summit. One of the intents of the train was to help reduce the number of trucks traversing the major arteries of Union County, which would include Route 28 aka. North Ave. and South Ave as well. Certainly welcome relief for those living and doing business on those thoroughfares.

But the newest twist according to the Star Ledger 6/12, appears to be the development of “train to truck” depots in the county’s suburban areas, perhaps nearby Cranford and Roselle, to handle the expected increase of containers coming into Port Elizabeth/Port Newark. These containers would be hauled around the area to their destinations obviously by trucks which it would appear would increase the truck traffic and not lessen it on North and South Aves.

And what of the opening of the Chemical Cost Line by the NJDOT to marine cargo from Staten Island including garbage from Fresh Kills Landfill it would seem that that freight is being pushed west along with chemical products from the Bayway Refinery, would it be inconceivable for the long discussed use of the Raritan Valley Line for this type of freight to become a reality sooner rather than later.

Shouldn’t the residents along the line be informed of this activity before tanker cars go rolling through downtown, Cranford, Westfield, or Plainfield on their way to PA.? The impact of even a minor freight accident on this major commuter line near, for instance the Westfield or Fanwood Station is bone chilling.

Union County residents pay dearly for this life of little league, backyard barbeques, and excellent educational opportunities for their children and shouldn’t they also be able to enjoy a relatively safe existence complete with peace and tranquility?

One would certainly think that that would be the case since we hold the dubious distinction of being in the top ten, nationally, of county’s with the highest county taxes. But alas, this picture of the American dream could end up being just that, a picture. It seems that we will have to pay the price for not paying attention to what was going on in neighboring communities because though they are getting an unwelcome train we here on the Route 28 corridor will be getting the whole shebang if we are not careful and than the family in the car waiting at the station can count the freight and tanker cars as they go whizzing by.