Philly, Conrail near deal on cleanup of Kensington drug encampment

Before this heroin camp in Kensington was torn down, users congregated to shoot up. City officials have been talking about establishing a

Before this heroin camp in Kensington was torn down, users congregated to shoot up. City officials have been talking about establishing a "safe-injection" site to cut down on opioid fatalities in the city where 1,200 people died of overdoses last year. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

An infamous stretch of Philadelphia railroad tracks that’s become ground zero for the city’s heroin epidemic may be one step closer to getting cleaned up.

The Conrail tracks along a half-mile stretch from West Kensington to Fairhill are littered with about half a million used syringes. Seventeen overdose deaths occurred last year in and around the corridor, according to the city medical examiner.

In April, the city issued citations to Conrail for hazards to public health and safety at the open-air drug market. Two months later, city officials say they are finally making progress on an agreement with the rail agency to clear out the drug encampment.

“I think we’ve created a framework for who’s responsible for what, and the ultimate responsibility of the railroad to clean and secure their property with our support and assistance,” said Michael DiBerardinis, city managing director.

DiBerardinis said the city is ready to help haul away waste and provide security during the cleanup. City officials hope to reach an agreement in the next two weeks.

Doing so is “an essential step in helping that neighborhood get back on its feet” by reducing rampant drug use and getting the users connected with addiction-treatment services.

Conrail has appealed the April citations issued by the Department of Licenses & Inspections for illegal and dangerous structures, inadequate fencing, and uncontrolled plant growth. The Department of Public Health also declared the area a public nuisance.

Conrail’s appeal could come to a hearing in the next few months if the railroad doesn’t reach an agreement with the city sooner, said a city official.

A Conrail spokeswoman said the company shared the city’s optimism that an agreement would be reached soon.

“We take our responsibilities very seriously,” said Jocelyn Hill.  “We’re working actively with the city on a comprehensive approach that is sustainable.”

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