PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) - It has been described as Hell on Earth. A Conrail track bed stretching from 2nd and Indiana to Lehigh and Aramingo in Philadelphia's Kensington and Fairhill neighborhoods where heroin addicts like 31-year-old "Jillian" go to feed their sickness.
"It is a shooting gallery," she tells FOX 29's Bruce Gordon. "It's absolutely ridiculous!"
Jillian injects heroin into her feet to hide the marks. Hooked for the past decade, she took to prostitution to make the money needed to shoot up at the tracks. When asked whether she wants to stop using heroin, she doesn't hesitate, "I never want to keep using. It is to the point where I don't even get high anymore. I just maintain."
Now, a ray of hope.
Conrail and the city of Philadelphia began Monday to clear the tracks-- removing mountains of trash, including thousands of drug needles-- and hacking down vegetation in which junkies with would hide.
The scope of the mess makes it clear this problem was years in the making.
"We have done numerous cleanups in the area over the years," said Conrail general counsel Jonathan Broder. "This is the first time we've really had a comprehensive plan that gives us a chance of it sustaining itself."
City officials say addicts driven off the track bed will be offered social services,help with addiction, homelessness and job searches.
Said Managing Director Mike DiBerardinis, at a noon ceremony to kick off the clean up: "Today, we are taking a big step and what will be a very long journey."
The area will be fenced off and patrolled by police.
"If the demand for the drugs are here than the supplies will be here," said Inspector Ray Convery. "If we can get people to help they need, the demand will go down and the supply will go down."
But addicts driven from the former drug haven may, in the short term, at least, flood surrounding neighborhoods, bringing their problems with them.
"I mean they are most certainly going to end up in our neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods," said Dan Martino, secretary of the nearby Olde Richmond Civic Association. "They have to go somewhere."
"Wherever I have to go, I'll go."