Fence will separate Somerton youth fields from exposed freight tracks [video]

This is the first of a two-part series about how neighborhood youth organizations interact with city departments and private firms.

When a tree-cutting company came by the Somerton Youth Organization facility to do some landscaping, members of the community thought little of it

Until the trees and bushes along one of the baseball fields were cut so short the train tracks behind them became exposed, creating a potential hazard for the organization’s young players.

The trees had to be cut down to reduce interference with electrical wires. But SYO Athletic Director Fran Young said he’s concerned about the exposed slope that was left behind in the process.

“Once they removed everything and removed all the shrubbery and trees, it left a pretty dangerous situation for the kids,” Young said. “There is a pretty steep drop, behind the bench of our players.”

Young said he had no idea about the trees being cut down, nor was he given any notice from anyone within the organization. “I was in the middle of practice with one of the baseball teams and I noticed these trucks driving up to our field,” he said. “I had to stop practice and go over. I had to hear the news from one of the workers.”

While work was going on, practices had to be cut short to allow crews to have the best access to the trees and keep the SYO players safe.

“It was a mess when they were working here,” Young said. “It was so loud and the had the trucks parked on the field. The only good thing about it was that the workers had normal working hours.  They weren’t here too early and they always left around 5 p.m.”

But the slope is just one problem. Just on the other side are the CSX tracks, which have regular freight train traffic.

Somerton Civic Association member Seth Kaplan contacted the owner of the train tracks to help resolve the issue. “We got in touch with Chelsea Seaboard Exchange System, who is going to be assuming responsibility and will be making a contribution to Somerton Youth Organization to have a fence put up to protect the safety of the children. That is what this all comes down to.”

Kaplan also coaches for the SYO, for which his son Dylan plays.

“Chelsea Seaboard Exchange System is cooperating with the Somerton Youth Organization and city officials to find an immediate solution to keep the Somerton Youth facility a safe environment for children,” CSX media adviser Robert Sullivan said. The company’s transportation network includes about 21,000 route miles of track in 23 states, the District of Columbia and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Kaplan said a plan has been put into motion to have a fence up by the end of the week. “We have a beautiful athletic facility and organization that does a great job in providing for the kids,” he said. “The last thing we want to do, is put the life of a child in harm’s way.”

Pa. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-170th, said all parties are working together to take responsibility in resolving this issue in a timely matter. “It has been fairly smooth working with all parties,” he said.

CSX is in the process of working on the freight line that runs through the Northeast into Bucks County, and some tracks will be lowered to allow larger loads.

Until the fence is up and work is done, Young said he’s focused on his players’ safety.

“I don’t even want to think about what would happen if a child goes afte r a ball and they fall as a train is coming through,” he said. “A fence needed to be put up yesterday.”

Matthew Flowers is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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