UE Helps Lead Community Roundtable on Rail Pollution

May 31, 2024

UE Local 1177 President Larry Hopkins was one of the panelists at a community roundtable about rail pollution on Wednesday, May 29. “I live on the southwest side of Chicago,” Hopkins said, “and I’m bounded by four rail yards within a two to four mile radius.” He charged that the old, polluting diesel locomotives used in Chicago’s rail yards are “harming railroad workers and drivers like myself, and people that live in these communities.”

According to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), Chicago has more rail infrastructure than any other American city. Currently, 25 percent of all freight trains and 50 percent of all intermodal trains pass through the metropolitan area. Chicago is North America’s main interchange point between western and eastern railroads. It is the only place where all six Class I railroads converge, all of which have multiple intermodal rail yards in the region.

Freight traffic is expected to grow significantly in the Chicago region. CMAP estimates that overall rail tonnage will grow by 62 percent between 2007 and 2040. Diesel locomotives pass through neighborhoods and by homes, schools, parks, hospitals, and businesses every day, poisoning working-class communities. Those same communities have higher rates of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, as well as premature death.

Hopkins was joined by experts from across the country who have been organizing against the pollution caused by the freight rail and locomotive sector. Panelists spoke about how zero-emission solutions are not only possible but necessary to address the deadly harms caused by the freight rail and locomotive sector. Hopkins specifically called for support for UE’s Green Locomotive Project, which aims for “a future of good union jobs, livable communities, and a sustainable planet.”

The roundtable followed a fact-finding tour to Chicago-area rail yards by members of an Environmental Protection Agency task force who are studying the need to tighten emission standards for locomotives. The task force was joined on the tour by Hopkins, Local 1177 steward Miya Bell, UE General President Carl Rosen and Green Locomotive Project Coordinator Tommy Carden.

UE co-sponsored the event along with Warehouse Workers for Justice, the Moving Forward Network, and other allies. Congressman Chuy Garcia, a long-time UE ally, delivered the opening remarks.


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