Digital Content | Watching The Rails

Produced this longform feature spotlighting the story of the residents of a low-income community of color who took on polluters in their backyard

One Community’s Quest for Safety

Ezra Prentice Homes, in Albany, New York is a community where people look out for one another. Be Be White, a resident for 12 years, takes that responsibility seriously. Each morning he wakes at 5 am, helps his son Brayton into his school uniform and takes his post at the nearby crosswalk to usher Brayton and his neighbors’ children safely from one side of the busy road to the other to catch the school bus.

Perhaps taking a cue from his father, Brayton spent an early May afternoon concerned about the well-being of a garden snail he found crossing the sidewalk. He and his cousin named the snail “Thomas.”

As they marveled at the creature named after the friendly “Thomas the Tank Engine” character they adore, looming above them was another, decidedly less innocuous, train—the kind that hauls 1.8 billion gallons of crude oil past their home each year.

Ezra Prentice Homes, a public housing complex that is home to 179 families and 288 children, borders an industrial railyard. And since 2012, there has been a spike in trains carrying crude oil through the community to the railyard. The oil trains are the same type that have been derailing and exploding their cargo with unnerving frequency across the country.

Be Be White and his son Brayton stand along the fence that separates the railroad tracks from Ezra Prentice Homes
Photo credit: Earthjustice