Englewood Rail Yard Expansion Back on Track With Ald. Taylor’s Support

Norfolk Southern locomotive. (WTTW News)Norfolk Southern locomotive. (WTTW News)

A 15-year effort by the Norfolk Southern Railway to double the size of its storage yard in Englewood finally got the green light from the Chicago City Council on Wednesday, after Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) dropped her opposition to a measure long sought by the railroad.

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With Taylor’s reluctant support, the ordinance allowing the railroad to purchase streets and alleys between the railroad’s tracks from Garfield Boulevard to 59th Street from the city was approved unanimously. Taylor blocked a vote on the measure last week, after preventing a hearing on it for five months.

Before dropping her opposition, Taylor said again that Norfolk Southern had yet to live up to the promises it made to take steps toward preventing air and noise pollution and to hire South Side residents after the rail giant bought approximately 500 lots, displacing many longtime residents — most of whom were low-income and Black.

“They could afford to put gates around their property,” Taylor said. “They could afford to fix the streets. They could afford to do beautification. And the thought that it's not in the [development agreement] is not on the people in our community. It's on them. There is no way in the world they are set up in the middle of a Black and Brown community and they do the bare minimum.”

But ultimately, Taylor said the residents of her ward backed the rail yard, which has its main entrance at 47th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway. The project began in 2014. 

“They’re OK with it, so I’m okay with it,” Taylor said.

Taylor is running for reelection and faces a rematch against former Chicago Police Officer Jennifer Maddox and Andre Smith, the founder of the group Chicago Against Violence.

Taylor demanded the railway conduct a study on the long-term health impacts of diesel soot from trains and trucks and to hire more Black contractors and employees, including from Englewood, but the ordinance was approved Wednesday without any changes.

A statement from Norfolk Southern said the $150 million facility will expand Chicago’s role at the heart of the nation’s supply chain.

“Construction can now move forward and will bring additional opportunities for local, diverse contractors and their workers,” said Norfolk Southern spokesperson Connor Spielmaker.

The firm has met all requirements to work with firms owned by female, Black and Latino Chicagoans while hiring local residents, Spielmaker said.

More than $3 trillion worth of cargo moves through Chicago each year, according to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

In other action, the City Council unanimously voted to ramp up the penalties for those convicted of attacking police officers, firefighters or other law enforcement agents, to include an additional six months in jail or a $1,000 fine.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th Ward), who faces two opponents in his bid for reelection, said he authored the proposal after a spate of attacks on paramedics and emergency medical technicians.

O’Shea said he had heard concerns from advocates for those suffering from mental illness that the ordinance could be used against them; he said he would put together a working group with Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th Ward) to ensure the measure does not have “unintended consequences.”

Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell called the ordinance a “politically expedient shortcut” that could hurt already vulnerable people in Chicago.

Ramirez Rosa said he would work with O’Shea to make sure the measure is not used to prosecute those engaging in peaceful protest or suffering from a mental health crisis.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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