Conrail doesn't like the situation any more than anyone else, added Conrail lawyer Jonathan Broder, pointing out that the company has to hire extra security to accompany its workers.
But the executives seemed reluctant to admit responsibility for the problem, blaming the state of the neighborhood instead for the condition of their property: "The neighborhood has changed, unfortunately," said Broder.
Community leaders saw things somewhat differently.
"When you look at the photographs," broached Brother Joe Dudek, development manager for the Archdiocese's Community Development Office, "you see fences are down and haven't been attended to."
Indeed, it didn't take CP much time to see that the iron fences separating the tracks from the street in that area are extremely old and, in many places, functionally useless — a point which Broder himself acknowledged later, over the phone: "That's fencing probably put up by the Reading Railroad 50 years ago."
And why, in 50 years, hasn't it been replaced?
"Fencing tends to be a situation that over time doesn't work very well," he says.
TRAILING OFF: A vast swath of land, the viaduct now can be seen as a forsaken monument to the city's once-thriving industrial past. (Photo: Neal Santos)
Conrail doesn't currently have a single security camera mounted on the viaduct. Asked whether the company has its own police force, Broder says it uses rail police, and that "they've issued warnings and ejections to numerous trespassers" but that "the scope of the problem is so large and so constant it's very hard to stop a hundred percent."
It's questionable how active that force is: CP saw no evidence of law enforcement of any kind while on the tracks. Brother Dudek recently walked the entire length of the passage: "We were up there for hours, and I said, 'Well, I'll stay up here until the police run me off.' I fully expected that would happen! But, of course, it didn't."
What these groups want most is for Conrail to commit to cleaning and re-fencing the tracks, at least the most crime-ridden parts of them. In return, they'll take responsibility for recruiting volunteers and/or paid staff to help maintain the area outside the fencing and to make sure the fences stay closed.
Under the recently de-funded Community LandCare program, pointed out Willie Gonzalez of the Hispanic Association of Contractors & Enterprises, "We went out and cleaned lots, and maintained them for three years. We have the experience, we have the people."
These groups are (very) cautiously optimistic that they can work something out with Conrail. Some even have bigger plans — NKCDC executive director Sandy Salzman wants to see the vast, wild expanse next to the one working rail track become a rails-to-trails park, along the lines of the High Line park in New York City. It is, as she points out, "really beautiful up there." The city's Commerce Department wants to see the railroad take on a larger role in developing new industry along the Delaware waterfront, as called for in the city's new master plan, the Commerce Department's Jon Edelstein said at the meeting.
If the railroad isn't cooperative, it's not clear what, if anything, the city will be willing to do about it. First and Seventh District Councilmembers Frank DiCicco and Maria Quinones-Sanchez did send envoys to the meeting, but neither spoke to CP for this story. For all of the Nutter administration's big-ticket plans — Greenworks, the waterfront, the city master plan — the nightmare railroad bed is a striking reminder of how much of this city has been left behind: by industry, by the bureaucracy, by the media (local groups are hoping to capitalize on all the attention surrounding the Kensington Strangler). It's a reminder of all the progress the city isn't making in reclaiming itself.
Without political support — and the will of city officials — all these residents can do right now is ask. So far, they're still asking nicely.