The train engine is a classic symbol of American ingenuity and drive. But when one is left idling all night long in one spot, not far from homes and businesses, the sound can drown out those romanticized images.
In downtown Apex’s historic district, homeowners and business owners have begun their annual ritual of inundating the Apex Town Council with emails and phone calls to complain about idling trains.
“Every time it turns to winter, they start idling all night long,” Mayor Bill Sutton said. “And the people who live there, they’re not able to sleep or enjoy their property.”
The CSX train station, located along Center Street between Salem and Elm streets, is just feet away from the downtown district as well as an otherwise quiet neighborhood of historic homes.
Last week the town unanimously passed a resolution pointing out its own noise ordinances and expressing its wish to work with CSX toward “being good neighbors.”
Apex has no power over the railroads, which are federally regulated. The resolution asks the area’s congressional delegation, as well as relevant federal agencies, to do something about the idling.
Councilman Scott Lassiter, who introduced the resolution, compared the town’s fight to David and Goliath.
“I want to be able to look at our neighbors and say we’re trying,” said Lassiter said.
The council also gave permission to Councilwoman Denise Wilkie to continue her discussions, on the town’s behalf, with Congressman George Holding’s office, which represents parts of Wake County. She said Holding’s staff has promised to look into several options to stop the engine idling, or at least reduce it.
Trains have to keep their engines above 35 degrees, and for years the solution has been to never turn the engine off, even when stopped.
No one was available for comment at the Apex CSX station, but the corporation’s website says it is dedicated to reducing carbon emissions with new technology to cut down on the need to idle.
“In addition to these systems, CSX invests heavily in training our employees on proper locomotive shut-down rules to eliminate unnecessary idling,” according to the company’s website.
But Lassiter and others said complaints have come in about idling even when it’s above 35 degrees, and that there’s no evidence CSX is using any other methods to cut down on idling, like heaters.
“First of all, I think CSX ought to be ashamed of themselves for what they’re doing,” councilman Bill Jensen said, calling the idling “obnoxious” and “rude” in addition to potentially harmful.
“They don’t have to sit there and waste diesel, stink up the environment,” Jensen said.
The official resolution, which the Town Council passed unanimously, also did not mince words.
“The CSX Corporation’s winter operational policies at their Apex North Carolina facility represent a technologically outdated, environmentally unconscious, and generally wasteful business practice causing unnecessary stress to the very citizens this Council is elected to represent,” the resolution said.
It also requested the Federal Railway Administration, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Health and Safety Administrations (OSHA) visit the facility and make sure it’s completely up to standard.
Several council members also said they’re receptive to speaking with the town’s legal staff about ways to fine the railroad for unnecessary idling. That office is in transition, however, as town attorney Hank Fordham retired unexpectedly last week.
Laurie Hohe, the former assistant town attorney, is now the town’s interim attorney while the town considers more than 50 applicants for the job.