Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=203384
Story Retrieval Date: 12/22/2014 6:09:41 PM CST
Norfolk Southern Corp.
Railroad yard expansion ruffles Englewood
Sitting on the porch of his house on West 60th Street, in the heart of Englewood on Chicago's South Side, 85-year-old Chad Fleming can't forget those good old days when the area was a paradise for local businesses and living.
“We used to have everything here--shopping malls, a theater, good neighbors, everything,” said a disconsolate Fleming, pointing to a deserted area nearby. “They’re all gone now.”
Indeed, Englewood today is a wasteland of foreclosed homes and businesses, vacant properties and derelict land and yards.
Having lived there since 1950, Fleming says, he can easily name anyone and anything around. However, with Virginia-based railroad operator Norfolk Southern Corp. planning to expand its existing intermodal yard lying just to the north, Fleming, as well as many other Englewood residents, will have to give way.
“Norfolk Southern sent someone to talk to us last September,” Fleming said. “They want to buy our houses and tear all of them down.”
The company said the expansion project, already years in the making, is designed to meet the increasing demand for freight cargo. At the intermodal yard, shipping containers are transferred from long-distance freight trains to other trains or to trucks. Norfolk Southern calls each such transfer a "lift".
“We handle over 1 million lifts annually in the Chicago area, and the Englewood yard handles about 40 percent to 50 percent of that,” said Norfolk Southern spokesperson Robin Chapman.
The yard is elevated and spreads over 140 acres, bounded on the north by 47th Street, on the south by Garfield Boulevard, on the east by Stewart Avenue, and on the west Wallace Avenue. The long-planned expansion project will add another 84 acres to the south of the existing yard, from Garfield Boulevard to 61st Street, eating well into Englewood.
This means that more than 100 residents whose houses are in the way of the proposed project will need to find a new roof sooner or later.
“We have been living here for our lives,” said Calvin Glinn, who lives on South Normal Boulevard. “My sister and I took over the house from my father and we have been living here for 50 years. Where are we going to move?”
The project presents a challenge for the long-struggling neighborhood where many seniors live, as many don't have the ability to move elsewhere or can't afford it.
But without disclosing current negotiations, Chapman, the spokesperson, said Norfolk Southern will offer “fair market deals” to the home owners, and commented that the acquisition process is moving in a positive direction.
In fact, the company quietly started purchasing in late 2008, and many residents were furious when they became aware of the process, only last September.
Due to long-time violence, neighborhood deterioration and widespread foreclosures, Englewood residents complain, their property values have been at the bottom. Glinn said the company has not talked to them since last September and nor has it given an offer. He is afraid that the company will push down the price as much as possible.
“I have always been taking care of my house, so I want to make sure I get what I deserve,” he said.
But for other residents, price is not an issue.
“We don’t want to move,” said Shirley Brown, who also lives on South Normal Avenue, with her aunt. “I was born in this house and I am just not going to leave.”
Nonetheless, more than likely, everyone will have to go since the City of Chicago, which favors the expansion, ultimately could invoke its eminent-domain authority to condemn and acquire the properties of any holdouts. Norfolk Southern, however, says it will try to avoid such court proceedings and look instead to negotiations with individual property owners.
Part of the expansion area, comprising about 100 vacant lots, is owned by the city. Norfolk Southern intends to buy them.
Peter Scales, spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, said the city will not intervene in the company’s negotiations with property owners. And, while declining to comment on the possibility of resorting to eminent domain proceedings, Scales said the project will bring benefits to Chicago in the long run.
One is greater efficiency of freight transport, particularly helpful as gasoline prices rise. But it's employment that both the city and the railroad emphasize.
Company spokesperson Chapman said there are between 75 and 150 Norfolk Southern employees at the current yard, including train crews, mechanical and engineering employees and a management team. That does not include contract workers such as truck drivers, heavy equipment operators, repairmen and supervisors.
“We do not measure those numbers. We contract for services and let the contractors determine the level of employment they need,” Chapman said.
The exact number of future employees, he added, will depend upon the level of business that is generated by the expansion.
For the senior residents who have their roots in the neighborhood, saying goodbye, though inevitable, is tough. Though they know they'll have to move eventually, when and where are still mysteries.
“We are still waiting. There's nothing we can do until the company comes to talk to us again,” said Fleming. “It hurts, but you’ve got to go when you’ve got to go.”