Amid the opioid crisis, a notorious area of rail property in Philadelphia's Fairhill-West Kensington neighborhood, known as "The Tracks," littered with used needles and trash, is finally being addressed.
The City of Philadelphia has reached a deal with Conrail to begin clean up of the area adjacent to the train trench along the 3000 block of North Mascher near Gurney Street. Thursday's announcement came about two months after Mayor Jim Kenney called out Conrail over the situation and after years of community members fighting to stop heroin and other drug use in the area.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that, for them, this announcement is long overdue. They deserved faster action from all of us standing up here today," Kenney said in a news release. "Over the years, thousands of addicts and drug dealers have used this property as an open-air drug market, and the community has been subjected to the public health problems, crime and negative impact to quality of life."
Conrail has agreed to remove vegetation to create clear sight lines from street level, clear trash, used needles and dumped debris, and erect fencing to prevent trespassing. The company will also provide resources to help police the area.
Seventeen people died of drug overdoses in the trench last year, city officials said. Many more have overdosed and been saved by first responders.
The nearly 3/4 of a mile long trench has long been a place for the drug addicted to use heroin and live while in the worst throes of their disease. The neighborhood has the dubious distinction of being the epicenter of heroin sales in the region. An encampment along the west end of the man-made gully has drawn national attention over the conditions people were living.
As part of the deal, the city vows to provide housing and drug-addiction services to those living there. The mayor's office also committed to carrying out quality-of-life improvements in the surrounding neighborhood.
NBC10 took viewers down to The Tracks as part of the award-winning digital exclusive investigation Generation Addicted on the state of the heroin and opioid epidemic in the Philadelphia region.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez spent years bringing attention to the drug area.
"I have worked for years with community members who fight this crisis every day, and I am grateful Mayor Kenney has recognized and prioritized the need for action," Quiñones-Sánchez said.
The city already spent money to get the neighborhood clean-up effort started. Licenses and Inspections spent $600,000 to seal dozens of vacant buildings in the area and the Streets Department spent another $230,000 to upgrade street lighting. The city also removes between 30 to 40 tons of illegally dumped trash from the area around the track on a monthly basis, according to city figures.
A community meeting is planned for 5:30 p.m. on June 20 at the Iglesias del Barrio, on East Cambria Street, where more details of the plan will be discussed.