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The Art of Drawing the Line on Railway Vibration

by on March 7, 2011

Florence, Italy is divided over plans to construct a train tunnel for a high-speed railway line to improve its rail link to Rome and Milan.

At the centre of the controversy is one of the world’s most iconic sculptures, Michelango’s Renaissance masterpiece, the statue of David.

In a March 4th article by Nick Squires for the Daily Telegraph, it is noted that the statue is riddled with tiny cracks, particularly in the statue’s left ankle.

Italian underground engineering expert Fernando De Simone says in the article that “The risk of collapse…will be very high if the resonance caused by excavation machinery for the high-speed train tunnel, as well as the vibrations of passing trains, are added to existing vibrations caused by visitors.”

The prospect of vibration damaging the famous sculpture prompted prominent Italian art critic, Vittorio Sgarbi to call for the train tunnel project to be shelved entirely.

“Our heritage should come before everything else. The excavation work should not go ahead,” he said.

Italy has its white carrara marble masterpiece to thank for pointing out serious concerns and potential impacts that can be caused by railway vibration.

Back Home in Canada…

 The Canadian Transportation Agency recognizes the problem of railway vibration on its official complaint form.

It asks the complainant to “Describe the impact of the noise/vibration,” to provide details as to the “Impacts on humans,” as well as the “Impact on physical environment (damage to property) in the case of vibration.”

Crucially, the Agency further requests that the complainant “Describe any recent changes to railway operations (volume of traffic, length and frequency of trains, methods of operation) that affected noise and vibration levels.

It’s a long-awaited relief for the many Canadians affected by railway noise and vibration to have such a process in place in which their concerns can be heard and considered.

The Italians, however, are considering the impact of a significant railway project before actually proceeding with it.

Here in Canada, it seems that railway projects and significant operational changes can all too often be implemented without any sort of consultation with the people and/or communities who stand to be directly – and negatively – affected.

Impacts, social or environmental – are then in various circumstances considered after the fact. Solutions can then be more complex as a result, particularly if the changes involved considerable cost investment by the railway.

Affected stakeholders – residential neighbours in particular – scramble for relief and explanation, often in shock of the sheer scope of the railway changes or projects that they seem to be simply expected to absorb.

All too frequently, these people have had little, if any notice at all about the railway’s plans that would ultimately alter their quality of life.

Amazement is then expressed at how this could possibly be allowed to happen in a country such as Canada, and that’s a question that we just can’t answer.

It’s a scenario that we’ve heard here repeatedly, and it’s clear that many of the complaints and problems with railway vibration and noise could be avoided altogether or considerably reduced if there was a mechanism in place to consider significant projects or changes initiated by railway interests before they proceed – in all circumstances.

We Need Our Own David…

The railway culture of privilege, rooted deep in the traditions of yesteryear, needs a wake-up call to the realities and social responsibilities of today. It’s time for rail to earn its social licence by including, not excluding, potentially affected stakeholders, especially its resident neighbours, in the consideration of its major projects and changes at some point during the planning stages.

Problems and potential solutions could then be constructively and collaboratively explored together, with the railway acting as part of the community, rather than at odds with it.

We can’t help but feel that if it was big rail from Canada undertaking the project in Italy, the tunnel would have already been built, with the statue of David crumbled on to the museum floor in a pile of broken marble. Endless and circuitous cycles of bickering and finger pointing  as to whether it was the railway, the tunnel’s construction, or the visitors to the statue that caused its collapse would then follow, with the railway seeking to maintain its operations through its already-built tunnel.

We’re in favour of Florence’s high-speed rail project, by the way.

We’re in favour of it proceeding once the project has fully considered the potential impact on the environment, the people, and the property at stake, including its magnificent works of art, and how to best mitigate the impacts accordingly. We’re in favour of the railway being a truly inclusive and positive presence in the community, in Florence, and back here at home in Canada.

Now, that would be progress.

© Copyright 2011


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