Homeowner George Olt, 69, whose property on 56th Place abuts the land owned by Amtrak, said he began hearing buzz saws near his lush backyard on April30. By the next day, some 200 trees - more than 100 of them exceeding about 2 feet in diameter - had been felled, Olt said.
"It's not like the trees were dead," said Olt, a retired transit worker who has lived in the same home for 26 years. "They were in full bloom."
The leafy trees also acted as a noise buffer from passing trains, he and neighbors said.
Most of the felled trees - along a 200-foot section of the railway - were rooted more than 50 feet from the tracks, said Olt, who was skeptical of the railroad's claim that the clearing project would improve safety.
The project was funded by federal stimulus money and is part of a nationwide initiative to upgrade infrastructure, said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Coles. Coles conceded the trees "may not be located directly on our right of way" but was a precautionary step.
"We still must take measures to reduce the risk of falling trees, branches and other debris that land on our right of way, overhead wire and signal system," Coles said.
Sandra Conway, who also lives on 56th Place, said the sudden loss of habitat seems to have confused local wildlife.
"At 6 a.m. squirrels were picking at our garbage," Conway said. "We've never seen that before."
The timing of the project has also stung local environmental groups. The tree-clearing comes as hundreds of others were planted in Woodside as part of the Mayor Bloomberg's MillionTreesNYC initiative.
"We didn't gain anything," said Anthony Gigantello, president of Coalition Helping Organize a Kleaner Environment, or CHOKE, based in Long Island City.
Coles said residents can call Amtrak's hotline to voice concerns about the project's impact. But that's too little, too late, locals said.
"I'm just exasperated," Conway said. "They just steamrolled through here."