Long Island Rail Road President Helena Williams has agreed to a comprehensive study on how to best mitigate noise for residents of the Village of Thomaston whose homes would run alongside the proposed extension of a LIRR pocket track, according to a statement from U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman Tuesday.
During a meeting Ackerman held with Williams in his Bayside office on Tuesday, Williams said the LIRR will examine all possibilities and determine which materials would be the best sound absorbing buffer between the new extended track and nearby houses just east of Great Neck station to include density and height of foliage and the composition and height of a possible retaining wall, Ackerman said.
"The residents of Thomaston who would be affected by the extension of the Great Neck pocket track deserve to be heard," said Ackerman. "I thank Helena Williams for giving me the opportunity to express their concerns, and for understanding the unease of homeowners who would be impacted by this project. I look forward to the LIRR quickly completing its study so that the best course of action can be determined."
Ackerman said Williams guaranteed that the lengthened pocket track would only be utilized during peak hours, and that no trains would be stored overnight.
In a statement Tuesday, the LIRR said it is "committed to working with the Great Neck community on mitigating any impacts of the proposed pocket track extension and Colonial Road Bridge replacement, including a study of sound absorbing materials that will be conducted as part of the environmental review process for the proposed pocket track extension which will provide immediate benefits and improved service for the 43,000 customers who use the Port Washington branch each day."
Village of Thomaston Mayor Robert Stern, who has opposed the pocket track extension project and pushed hard for a sound mitigation and environmental study in recent months, said he was grateful to Ackerman for opening discussions with the LIRR.
"I'm heartened at Congressman Ackerman's report of the meeting with Miss Williams and her willingness to offer consideration for the concerns of the residents of Thomaston," said Stern, who has served as mayor for 15 years.
Stern has recently complained that after he expressed concerns about the project, the LIRR ignored his requests for further discussions with railroad representatives.
Stern and Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender were contacted before Tuesday's meeting, but were not present for the discussion with the LIRR.
With increased commuters expected by the LIRR as a result of the track extension, Plaza parking and traffic near the train station could be significantly impacted if the proposed plan goes through - but Celender has had little to say publicly regarding the pocket track extension issue in recent months.
Celender did not return phone or e-mail messages left Wednesday at her office by Blank Slate Media regarding the recent meeting between Ackerman and the LIRR.
Ackerman, a Democrat who represents the 5th Congressional District in Queens and Nassau County, said he plans to meet with local village officials and make the study findings public when complete.
According to the LIRR, the extension of the pocket track, a side track staging area for trains at the Great Neck station, is designed to give the railroad capacity for service to Grand Central Terminal, which the LIRR is set to begin around 2016.
The project, which would lengthen the existing pocket track by 1,200 feet, also includes the replacement of Thomaston's century-old Colonial Road Bridge, which Stern said is dangerous in its present condition.