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LIRR annoys Forest Hills residents

Forest Hills residents slammed the Long Island Rail Road at a meeting sponsored by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) last week, saying their quality of life has severely deteriorated because of noise from passing trains.

“My life now revolves around the railroad’s schedule,” said Forest Hills resident Russ Gundlach. “I can’t go to sleep before 11:30 at night because of the trains. You can’t live like this.”

Gundlach was one of more than 75 people who packed into a room at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills Aug. 12 for a meeting Weiner said he hoped would spark a constructive dialogue between residents and LIRR officials about noise and other complaints regarding the LIRR.

Weiner and residents criticized the LIRR during the meeting for removing about 100 trees and a wall along the railroad tracks in Forest Hills that had acted as sound barriers. The LIRR removed the trees and wall about one year ago, and Forest Hills resident Anita Perrino said the move has caused consternation among many Forest Hills residents in that area.

“The view used to be so pretty because of the trees, and now it’s awful,” said Perrino, vice president of the Austin Gardens Owners Corp.’s board of directors.

Perrino added that a woman in her building was having trouble selling her apartment, in part because of the treeless landscape.

Bob Brennan, director of government affairs at the LIRR, told the assembled residents that the agency needed to remove the trees because they were posing safety issues. LIRR officials added that the wall was crumbling.

“When the trees got into the signal lines, we’ve had fires,” Brennan said. “We removed the trees, which had not been trimmed for years. That’s why we had to remove the vegetation.”

Weiner, who lives near the rail tracks in Forest Hills, became visibly agitated following Brennan’s statement and said, “You cannot have decades of growth and say suddenly, ‘This is such a problem that we’ll come down with no notice and get rid of these trees.’ What you meant to say was, ‘We went too far, we’re sorry, we’ll try to ameliorate it right away and we did something akin to napalm in our community.’”

Brennan said the LIRR did work with the Forest Hills Garden Association to remove the trees.

LIRR officials said they would look into whether it would be feasible for them to replace the vegetation and the wall, which the LIRR says it did not build. Weiner said he could possibly secure federal funding for the LIRR to install a new wall.

Richard Semenick, an assistant chief engineer at the LIRR, said the LIRR has worked hard to decrease noise from the trains, including developing a horn shielding device that will be used with the majority of the rail company’s cars by the end of 2010.

Still, neighbors said the noise from trains’ horns has made life nearly unbearable.

“I live about 10 blocks away from the tracks, and I can definitely hear the whistles,” said Heidi Harrison Chain, president of the 112th Precinct Community Council and a Democratic candidate for City Council. “There was a tremendous difference when they took the vegetation and wall down.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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