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April 06, 2017

Philadelphia cites Conrail over open-air drug market in West Kensington

Citations Drug Trafficking
040617_Conrailmascher Source/Google Street View

Conrail's tracks run beneath the 3000 block of Mascher Street in West Kensington.

The city of Philadelphia issued citations Thursday against local railroad service provider Conrail for failing to adequately secure the property along its tracks in West Kensington and Fairhill.

Mayor Jim Kenney, joined by the Department of Licenses and Inspections and the Department of Public Health, said the violations notices came in response to dangerous conditions on the company's private grounds, neglectful enough to enable an open-air drug market to flourish.

“The present conditions exist in large part because of Conrail’s failure to clean and secure their own property,” said Mayor Kenney. “The City has devoted millions in resources to this area over the last several decades, but we need Conrail to live up to their responsibility in order to make additional progress. We have shown that the City is more than willing to do our part to help uplift the neighborhood. Now, Conrail needs to do its. We are not asking any more of them than require of any other private property owner with hazardous conditions on its property.”

Of particular trouble is a mile-and-half stretch of tracks along Gurney Street often referred to as El Campamiento, a Philadelphia shantytown considered the epicenter of the city's drug trade.

In 2016, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner reported 17 people who were found dead from drug overdoses along this corridor. Another 29 emergency medical rescues were provided by the city's first responders. Vagrant addicts have shuffled in and out of the territory for the better part of three decades.

“These conditions represent a continuing health hazard that negatively impacts the surrounding neighbors, the entire city, and our first responders,” said Dr. Tom Farley, Philadelphia Department of Public Health Commissioner.

Despite continuous conversations with Conrail since November, city officials say the company, which today serves CSX Corporation and Norfolk Southern Corporation, has failed to take appropriate action to remedy the situation. Thursday's citation's cover the company's property from Kensington Avenue to 2nd Street.

Inspectors from L&I have found numerous violations of the city's Property Maintenance Code, including dangerous structures, inadequate fencing, poor sanitation and uncontrolled vegetation, city officials said. Health Department officials reported countless used syringes, trash and debris.

Local, state and federal leaders commended Mayor Kenney on taking action against Conrail, which will have 30 days to respond to the citations. The city has denied the company's claim that it ever cut off communications with them or ceased efforts to collaborate on developing a firm plan.

“Mayor Kenney has my full support in his efforts to clean up this neighborhood that is at the center of the opioid problem in Philadelphia,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “This epidemic is being fought in every part of the Commonwealth, which is why I signed legislation last year that will strengthen the prescription drug monitoring programs, restrict the number of pills that can be prescribed to minors or in emergency rooms and establish education curriculum on safe prescribing. The only way we can win this fight is to work together."