Residents express concern about proposed train tunnel in West Baltimore

"It's like living over a railroad yard," said one West Baltimore resident of the train tunnel.

Some Baltimore residents whose homes would sit above a proposed train tunnel through Sandtown-Winchester and Reservoir Hill expressed concerns about vibrations, diesel pollution and dangerous freight moving below their homes.

Kathy Epple, president of the Residents Against the Tunnels, which formed last year, said many residents are opposed to the $4 billion project that would replace an aging railroad tunnel under West Baltimore.

"We don't want it under our houses," Epple said, citing concerns about vibrations from possibly up to 388 trains under her home and others, up from 145 that pass through the existing tunnel built in 1873. "It's like living over a railroad yard," she said.

Amtrak wants to reroute the tunnel to increase the number of trains that can pass through it each day. The project would smooth out sharp curves, enabling trains to double their speed.

Jacqueline Thorne, project manager for the state Transportation Department, said her office has been listening to the concerns of the community, and noted that the revised plan will reflect changes made after receiving community input.

Many of the houses in Reservoir Hill are 100-plus years old and some residents worry about how they will withstand the vibrations, Epple said. Officials estimate 138 houses could feel the vibrations, but that those homes would not suffer any damage, including historic homes.

Another member of Residents Against the Tunnels, Soledad Salame, who has lived in her Reservoir Hill home since 1987, said she doesn't believe the vibrations would not affect her home. "They're 100-year-old houses. My whole floor could just collapse," she said.

She questioned why the tunnel couldn't be moved under an existing road, which she thought might lessen any impact.

Epple said residents are also concerned about what freight will be carried beneath the community, including any toxic or hazardous material. Transportation officials say hazardous materials may be transported through the tunnel but say some of those materials might already be carried through the existing tunnel.

Epple said the risk for a potential accident is increased with so many more trains running. She said there's also a concern about diesel fumes, which will increase with more trains.

Under the proposal, officials said there would be 166 diesel trains, which will expel additional pollutants. Officials said analysis of the effects on air quality near the vent plants is not complete but will be made public when it's finished.

The most recent plan calls for an air-vent plant for the tunnel to be relocated away from a community garden. It would also displace 17 residents, instead of 41, and would be bored through rock 115 feet below the city, deep enough to "eliminate any noticeable vibrations from passing trains," according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Thorne said the department is holding the informational meetings as a way to be transparent, to go "above and beyond" to notify and work with residents. But she acknowledged that "it's not going to be popular for some."

Some at Wednesday's meeting came to learn about the project and how it might impact their community.

Pastor Gwendolyn Brooks is looking to buy a church building on Appleton Street for her fledgling congregation. She leads the New Life Church of Deliverance out of her own home but wants to have her own building. She said she chose West Baltimore because she wanted to worship in a community that could also benefit from the church's service.

"We wanted to be where we can help and be a blessing," she said.

"I'm excited," she said about her new building. "I just need to make sure," about the tunnel before moving forward with the site, she said. Looking at the map, she said the church would not be directly over the tunnel but it could be impacted during construction.

She said she hoped the project would bring jobs to the community.

Karriem Shabazz, 45, a contractor whose business is near the tunnel also came to the meeting to see how his business, Allec LLC, might be impacted. He was looking to buy a vacant lot to expand it, he said.

Shabazz said he grew up in West Baltimore and still has family. "I'm trying to figure out what's the impact to my building and the neighborhood," he said.

The next open house is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 16 at Carver Vocational School, 2201 W. Presstman St.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
37°