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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

Norfolk Southern Railway Hosting Community Meeting As Company Finalizes Years-Long Takeover Of Englewood Land

The meeting will be in person and online Tuesday evening.

A freight train runs through Englewood along Stewart Avenue as land continues to be cleared for the expansion of the Norfolk Southern intermodal yard in Englewood on Jan. 9, 2023.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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ENGLEWOOD — Norfolk Southern Railway Company could be closing in on its final effort to gain control over several South Side blocks to expand its 47th Street rail yard, and residents are invited to a community meeting Tuesday for more information.

Company officials will host the meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday at Kennedy King College, 6301 S. Halsted Ave., Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) posted on Facebook. Neighbors who cannot attend can tune in via Teams here, according to company officials.. 

A pending City Council ordinance would transfer the streets and alleys between Garfield Boulevard and 59th Street and between Stewart Avenue and Wallace Street to the freight company.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced the legislation in June, but Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), whose ward includes the territory, blocked the measure for months. Taylor recently dropped her opposition, and the City Council could consider the ordinance this month, the Tribune reported.

Taylor was not immediately available for comment.

Norfolk Southern’s effort to acquire the land started in 2008, when the Virginia-based company began quietly buying up private homes and tearing them down to make way for the 84-acre project. Company officials have said the expansion is needed because Chicago is a critical juncture for freight transportation.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
5931 S. Normal Blvd. is one of the two remaining homes on its block as land continues to be cleared for the expansion of the Norfolk Southern intermodal yard in Englewood.

The 47th Street rail yard is the company’s biggest railroad in Chicago and will double in size through the expansion, according to the Tribune

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration agreed in 2013 to sell 105 vacant, city-owned lots for $1.1 million to help along the expansion. The 20-block acquisition stretched from Garfield Boulevard to 61st Street and Wallace Street to Stewart Avenue. 

That section of land once housed hundreds of residents whom the rail company bought out or forced out using eminent domain to clear the land. “The Area,” a 2018 documentary created by sociologist David Schalliol, followed Englewood residents who for six years tried to stop the company’s efforts.

In 2014, the city also agreed to a land swap with the company to turn over the 1.7-mile abandoned rail line in exchange for more city-owned land near the railway’s 63rd Street yard.

That rail line north of 59th now has been targeted as the future home of the Englewood Trail.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The freight train tracks parallel Stewart Avenue south of Garfield Boulevard.

The 2013 redevelopment deal with the city split into four phases the process to grant Norfolk Southern oversight to shut down streets and alleys between the land the company owns. The company can permanently shut the streets to traffic as long it follows city guidelines on things like utilities and water infrastructure, according to the latest ordinance.

Norfolk Southern Railway began the first phase in 2014, building a track connection, according to the company. Two more phases were to add truck trailer parking lots.

Phase four is to complete the remaining street transfers to the company’s control, according to the graphic.

Railway officials are expected to discuss that street transfers and the construction of their second truck trailer parking lot across 15 acres west of Normal Avenue between 57th and 58th streets, according to a timeline shared by the company

Work on the land will begin by spring and could wrap by mid-2024, according to the graphic. 

As part of the Redevelopment Agreement, the railway company must “hire a minimum of 24 percent minority-owned and 4 percent women-owned businesses” to move forward with its work, according to the timeline shared by the company. The railway company has “exceeded” the minimum percentage set in the agreement years prior, according to the company. 

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Shipping containers sit stacked together south of 47th Street at the Norfolk Southern intermodal yard in New City on Jan. 9, 2023.

Despite the controversy, the project has generated support from key local officials.

Emanuel touted more jobs and a contribution of $3 million from the company “to an infrastructure fund that would support local economic development initiatives,” he said in announcing the sale of city land in 2013. 

Former Englewood Ald. Willie Cochran, who pled guilty to wire fraud in 2019 before vacating his seat, also supported the expansion of the railway company in his community. 

The transfer of land to Norfolk Southern Railway will help “strengthen established industrial areas,” according to Lightfoot’s ordinance. It will also increase city jobs by “encouraging the growth and modernization of existing industrial facilities.”

But “The Area” showed the railway company displaced dozens of Black families and demolished homes owned for generations. 

A study by the Environmental Law and Policy Center showed the expansion of the 47th Street rail yard would increase “lung-damaging pollution” in Englewood, according to the Tribune.  

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Trucks carry containers at 47th Street near the Norfolk Southern intermodal yard in New City on Jan. 9, 2023.

Taylor, who filled Cochran’s seat in the 2019 election, has been vocal about her disapproval of the company and Lightfoot’s ordinance.

Taylor blocked the ordinance in an attempt to push railway company leaders to study the lifelong health repercussions of inhaling soot and to employ more Black employees from the community, she told the Tribune. It wasn’t immediately clear why she dropped that effort.

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