Over 15 years, residents along Baltimore's 26th Street have watched their sidewalk sink 6 feet as the earth has eroded around the railroad tracks that snake through their daily comings and goings.
Iron rails and a concrete wall have collapsed, leaving gaping holes in the residents' protection from a 30-foot drop onto the CSX train tracks.
Structural problems around the train track overpasses, which residents in the Harwood section of Charles Village have fought for years to have corrected, are believed to be among the worst in Baltimore's residential areas.
The city and the rail company were to issue a request Friday for bids to repair the overpasses in Harwood, but 2nd District City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young says that's not enough. Young, whose district includes 26th Street, recently introduced a bill that urges CSX and other rail companies to fix and clean up their city properties.
"I'm just sick of the condition of railroad properties in our city," Young said. "Overpasses are falling in."
Added 1st District Councilwoman Lois Garey: "Baltimore was the birthplace of railroads in America." Railroad companies "seem to have forgotten where they came from," she said.
Bob Sullivan, a spokesman for CSX, said the railroad company acknowledges problems on 26th Street and is working with the city to fix them. "There is an agreement that has been reached. We're happy to work with the city on this particular issue and get the situation resolved as quickly as possible," he said.
A spokesman for the Public Works Department said he expects work to begin in the spring.
Sullivan said the company would have to review Young's bill on citywide railroad-site cleanup and repairs before issuing a statement about it. But he did say that CSX has always been willing to work with the city on such issues.
"I don't know if [legislation] is necessary as much as letting us know what the problems are," Sullivan said. "We've tried to work with the city on issues that have come up with respect to property."
Young's legislation does not threaten sanctions against the railroad companies, but urges railroad officials to report to the City Council on the condition of all their city properties; to adopt measures to ensure the continuing environmental preservation and safety of these properties; and to develop programs to help residents whose homes might have been damaged by vibrations from the trains.
Most railroad sites are not as dilapidated as the overpasses along 26th Street. Some, such as the CSX overpass at Chester and East Chase streets, have cracks in support walls. Others have the kinds of problems found on the Amtrak line at Monroe and Laurens streets, where used tires, broken furniture, overgrown vegetation and bags filled with garbage blight the property.
But persuading railroad companies to clean and repair the problem areas could prove difficult.
Part of the long wait for residents on 26th Street between Calvert and Barclay streets resulted from years of squabbling between the city and CSX over responsibility for the problems.
"Nothing clearly indicated who should do what," said Richard Chen, an engineer in the city Department of Public Works who estimated the 26th Street repairs would cost close to $1 million. For example, Chen said, the collapsed wall sits on the border of the railroad and city property.
Young said he does not want to see such problems spreading throughout the city. "All I want them to do is be good neighbors," Young said.
Residents are particularly concerned about neighborhood children playing near the railroad tracks on their way to and from Margaret Brent Elementary School, at 100 E. 26th St., a block from the most severe problems. They also are concerned about damage to their homes because of vibrations from trains and further erosion.
Renee Brown, 25, who in May moved into a house directly across the street from the troubled railroad site, said train vibrations have cracked her walls. "When the train comes by, it shakes the whole house," Brown said.
Residents say they believe neither the city nor the railroad wants to pay for the damage. Homeowners remain skeptical that the railroad repairs at 26th Street are moving forward. They say they have been told for months that a request for proposals was being issued.
The huge sinkholes at the railroad site, some of which could hold a small car, have been used as a dump site for old chairs, soda and water bottles, small grocery carts and children's plastic swimming pools. Concrete barriers and fences line the sidewalks that have sunk into the ground.
"It's a blight on our neighborhood," said Betty Wilson, president of the Harwood/26ers Community Association.
Pub Date: 10/19/98