A rendering of a proposed rail spur and waste transfer...

A rendering of a proposed rail spur and waste transfer station in Kings Park. Credit: Townline Rail Terminal

Before Long Island's biggest landfill closes, Kings Park businessman Toby Carlson is seeking federal approval for a rail spur to haul incinerator ash and construction debris from his waste transfer facility in the hamlet’s industrial area to the Midwest. 

Carlson envisions 5,000 feet of new rail on 82 acres he controls near Town Line and Pulaski roads. The rail would branch off the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Jefferson line and terminate at a planned 100,000-square-foot transfer building. Working with freight line New York & Atlantic Railway, Carlson would run a 15- to 20-car train to that building weeknights. 

Inbound trains would carry aggregate, lumber and automobiles for local distribution. Departing trains would carry sealed containers with up to 1,500 tons of ash from the incinerator at waste-to-energy plant operator Covanta’s nearby Huntington Resource Recovery Facility and other material from his CarlsonCorp. transfer facility, Carlson said. 

The proposal, laid out in documents submitted to a federal freight rail regulator, comes ahead of the scheduled 2024 closing of the Brookhaven landfill in Yaphank, which accepts more than 1 million tons of ash and construction debris yearly. Hauling that waste off-Island by road alone would mean thousands of new truck trips, worsening air pollution and drive times. Trucks already haul hundreds of thousands of tons of waste directly off-Island, negotiating bottlenecks and tolls at New York City bridges.

“We will have a crisis and we will need all avenues available,” Carlson told Newsday.

A spokesman for regulator Surface Transportation Board didn't comment.

Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said the spur, which needs local and state approvals, "would help remedy" a problem for which government and industry leaders have offered "no real concrete decisions." 

Covanta Huntington processes 341,000 tons of municipal waste yearly, with trucks making 20 runs per day to the Brookhaven landfill. The spur would replace those runs with one truck making the trip between the plant and the transfer facility, Carlson said. 

A Covanta spokeswoman said the company is “continuing to explore sustainable solutions for handling this ash, but we have not finalized plans after Brookhaven closes.” LIRR is reviewing the proposal, an MTA spokeswoman said. 

Elsewhere on Long Island, five waste-by-rail projects have been built or are in the approvals process, said Will Flower, vice president of Winters Bros., which has proposed perhaps the largest, in Yaphank. “There’s no more effective way to ship freight than rail,” Flower said, citing cost and greenhouse gas emissions cut by up to 75% versus truck hauling.

David Tonjes, a Stony Brook University professor who studies solid waste management, agreed rail promises greater efficiency but said it has its drawbacks.

To move freight off Long Island, a train must stop in Brooklyn and barge across the harbor or run north to Albany's bridges. There are also issues of environmental justice for communities along rail lines, he said.

Fort Salonga Association civic president Keith Macartney said he's worried about health risks from the ash in transit and train noise and fumes. Carlson and Wehrheim said berms and engineering solutions would buffer a Kings Park neighborhood northeast of the facility. 

Adrienne Esposito, Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director, said waste management should include waste reduction but “we need a viable option for ash disposal... a terminal in an already industrialized area is a reasonable option.” 

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