Thursday, June 28, 2012

On the Right Track

Rep. Van Hollen
A while back I mentioned that I had called my new Congressman's office to ask if there was anything they could do about the train tracks that ran across the northeast corner of the National Park Seminary Property. The tracks carry Amtrak trains between DC and the midwest, as well as MARC trains, which are Maryland commuter trains connecting DC with Montgomery County and going out as far as West Virginia.  But the tracks are owned by CSX, the freight company, and a good number of freight trains buzz through on a pretty regular basis.  It's actually not bad at all: if you're standing outside, without trees around you, you can definitely hear the trains from across the glen, but once you're in the trees it really gets muted, and you can hardly hear anything from inside, even with our current state of holey-ness.  I guess the trains used to sound their horns every time they approached the crossing at Forest Glen Road, which is just across the glen, so the train traffic was much more in-your-face -- in-your-ears, actually -- until recent months, when they reconfigured the crossing and put up signs warning cars and pedestrians that no horn was sounded.  I understand some people were not so happy about the horns, and others are not so happy that people moved so close to a horned crossing and groused about it-- either way, there are no horns now, so that's no longer an issue.

But what is an issue, and the reason I called the Congressman's office, is that when the tracks cross the glen and run by the property, they do so without any kind of barrier or separation.  And knowing my kids, and especially my son's love of everything trains (a love that is quickly being supplanted by outer space, actually), I can definitely see them traipsing across the glen to see how close they could get, or how tracks feel.  Heck, I can see Isaac trying to see what they taste like, but that's a different blog now, isn't it?  Anyhow, even though I trust that, even at 5, Isaac would listen to us when we told him to stay a certain distance away, it's nice to have that backup, y'know?  Congressman Van Hollen's office got in touch with CSX, and one of their public affairs reps actually called me back today, which was pretty impressive.  (Took only four weeks, too.)  She was definitely guarded, and started right off by wondering why I was so interested, since my property was so far (maybe an eighth of a mile?) from the railroad.  She also noted that CSX owned 23,000 miles of rail, and it wasn't exactly their policy to fence it all in.  I understood where she was coming from, but I also understood that she thought I was a townsperson with a pitchfork and a torch, so I quickly told her my side of things, and explained that what I was out for wasn't blood, but rather some sort of help or advice.  I think I may have caught her off guard, and I'm guessing most people she speaks with are not the flexible kind...

So what happened is she told me that while they don't put up fences, they have several different options they're usually willing to work with.  One would be allowing us, as a homeowners' association, to pay to put up a fence of our own on their land.  But she noted that fencing along a railroad track hardly keeps people out, and attracts things like vandalism and kids sneaking over/under/around/through; not the best option.  She also mentioned that CSX would be willing to donate money to the homeowners' association to buy and plant vegetation that would separate the tracks from the land-- she specifically mentioned "really thorny plants," which was funny-- and that CSX even had a specific type (she didn't mention which) of trees that they could donate to the cause.  Seriously, I didn't think I would get as much help as this, so I was really impressed.  (Not to mention, she finished by telling me she had a whole bunch of coloring books and other materials for kids explaining train-track safety that she could send to us.  Lady, you had me at coloring books...)

So where it stands right now is that I'm going to try to write a note to the homeowners' association explaining my busybody-ness and asking if there is any interest.  I would say that I can't imagine there would be a lot of blowback to a potential partnership with a neighboring utility to plant trees, but you never know; after all, we live in a country where people today are saying they want to move to Canada to get away from our "socialized healthcare system," so anything could happen.  I, for one, am just impressed that communication lines are open between a lowly property owner, a Congressman, and a corporation with $9 billion in annual revenue.  Who'd'a thunk it?

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