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FW: A 100-year-old railroad locomotive repair shop burned

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  • Dicarlo, Gino
    One of the FJ&G s S2s was fixed at this shop! Gino Burning rail yard worries residents Colonie-- Neighbors concerned smoke from locomotive repair shop fire may
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 22, 2004
      One of the FJ&G's S2s was fixed at this shop!

      Burning rail yard worries residents
      Colonie-- Neighbors concerned smoke from locomotive repair shop fire may hold hazardous chemicals
      By BRUCE A. SCRUTON, Staff writer
      First published: Monday, March 22, 2004

      A 100-year-old railroad locomotive repair shop burned throughout Sunday afternoon, creating pollution worries among neighbors.

      "There's all kinds of stuff in there," said Jeff Boyd as he and several neighbors gathered at the end of Seventh Street and looked through a fence and woods toward the burning building. "We're worried about asbestos, PCBs, who knows what kinds of oil and other things they used there."

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      Town officials said they don't know the extent of environmental problems, but doubted residents were in danger. "There's smoke, and people with breathing problems should stay inside," cautioned Ed Potyrala, town fire coordinator. "But I don't think there's any other real concerns."

      Other fire officials said the 35 mph to 40 mph wind gusts that fanned the flames also kept the smoke moving. The column of smoke stayed close to the ground across the southern part of the city of Watervliet and even across the Hudson River into South Troy.

      Schuyler Heights Fire Chief Ken Keefer Sr., who was in charge of firefighting operations, said there were no mandatory evacuations of nearby homes, but residents were informed of the fire. "They could all see the trucks, anyway," he said, "and with past experience, they are aware of the possible dangers."

      Four times, "all minor until now," firefighters have been called to this particular building, said the chief. There also have been fires on the property in other buildings.

      In 1998, a controlled burn of one of the buildings on the 80-acre former repair yard grew out of control and leaped into the locomotive repair building. Several weeks later, residents were told that asbestos ash had been discovered as a result of the fire.

      "That whole roof is asbestos," said Gary Jeffries of Seventh Street, another bystander who watched flames consume the north end of the building. "There's no way they can get in to that area. It's all woods right up to the (Watervliet) arsenal property."

      The 200,000-square-foot building, primarily built of brick, steel and glass, was once a repair hub for the Delaware & Hudson Railway.

      "There's floors in there, though, that are oil-soaked and diesel-soaked from years of use," fire coordinator Potyrala said.

      The repair shop, which had fixed both steam and diesel locomotives, closed in 1982.

      The fire was reported at 11:59 a.m., and the first units said there was heavy smoke and fire on the west side of the building.

      Fire officials said the size of the building and the need to have so many pumpers supplying water across such an area caused a drop in water pressure. The units on the western side of the building also had to draw water from hydrants on Ninth Avenue and Fourth Street, creating a run of almost a quarter-mile.

      Firefighters initially were inside the huge building, but after about an hour it became obvious the structure had been weakened and an evacuation was ordered. The fire coordinator said no firefighters would be allowed back inside because of the possibility of a collapse. "We'll be here all evening wetting this one down," he said.

      While there has been no official word, Potyrala said the cause was considered suspicious because there was no power to the buildings. He said the spot, because of its relative seclusion, was a favorite for teenagers to hold beer parties.

      The property has been owned by Guilford Transportation, which bought up many D&H facilities when that railroad went bankrupt. In 1993, Guilford got permission from New York to sell the property, and it has been on the market since.

      At the time the property was put up for sale, the National Railway Historical Society was told by Guilford that it was being evicted from one of the buildings on the property it was using to store and refurbish old railcars. When the railroad enthusiasts vacated, they expressed hope of raising the necessary money to buy and restore the rail yard and turn it into a museum. But those plans never materialized.

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