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FAQ: Contacting Canada’s Two Largest Railways With Your Railway Noise and Vibration Problem

by on December 15, 2011

Where do you turn when you are faced with a concern about railway noise and vibration?

That’s a question that we’ve been asked repeatedly. Often, the people seeking help and relief already feel thoroughly frustrated, upset, sleep deprived, or sometimes, simply overwhelmed.

Contacting the railway involved is an important first step, especially if the problem is an ongoing one.  In its “Guidelines for the Resolution of Complaints over Railway Noise and Vibration,” The Canadian Transportation Agency states that “direct communication shall be established among the parties.”

Document Your Concerns

We recommend that in the case of an ongoing problem that your concerns be provided to the railway in written form as opposed to a phone call or verbal message in order to better document your efforts to try to resolve the issue(s) directly. If you later seek the Canadian Transportation Agency’s help, a written record of your communication with the railway could provide an important source of information in reviewing your complaint, compared to phone calls.

We further recommend that you consider, if possible, sending a short video clip or a photo of the problem or issue to the railway as part of your communication.  Photos and videos can help conclusively demonstrate what is being experienced, and often when, and where.

However, never, we repeat, never, trespass on railway property in order to get your photo or footage. To do so is both unsafe, and illegal.

Keep a file of the correspondence that you’ve sent the railway, and their responses. Make a note of any phone calls, their date and time, and what was discussed. Note any changes made by railway to address your concerns, and whether the changes improved or worsened the issue.

Consider keeping a dated, written log of problematic events, noting time, type of noise, and locomotive numbers, if readily visible.

Communicating with the Railway

Lastly, we strongly recommend that any communication you undertake with the railway be civil in tone, no matter how angry and upset you might be.

If railways and communities are to have a healthy relationship based on mutual respect, it can start with the first phone or email you write. Be accurate, consistent, and persistent if need be, but always use a civil tone.

Being on the receiving end of the public complaints line at CN Rail and Canadian Pacific has to be one heck of a job!

Contacting CN Rail

CN Rail provides the following contact information on their home page.

Phone:  1-888-888-5909 (Public Inquiries line)

Email:  contact@cn.ca

CN has useful system outlined on its website, under a section entitled “Crossing Safety” to help establish the exact location of a concern when a crossing is involved:

“As part of CN’s commitment to crossing safety, all CN public crossings have identification stickers or signs on the back of the crossing sign (crossbucks), the sign post or on the signal bungalow showing the location of the crossing (CN subdivision and mileage or U.S. DOT number). This location information should be quoted to ensure proper identification of the crossing. In addition, dates and times should be indicated where specific incidents are referred to.”

Challenges in Contacting CN Rail

Our primary criticism with CN’s Public Inquiry phone line is that its hours of live operations are very restricted, namely weekdays 9:00am to 6:00pm, eastern standard time, leaving no direct means of contact during evenings or weekends, which can compound problems considerably. The system reverts to a voice mail system outside of these hours.

In contrast, from CN’s website: “To support the North American economy and get our customers’ goods delivered on time, CN must operate the railroad 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

We believe that it’s a serious deficiency in CN’s operations that its Public Inquiries line is not available live on a similar 24 hour basis in step with its operations, including late night access when concerns with noise and vibration often tend to occur, frustrating members of the public in need of assistance.

The voice mail option outside of these hours amounts to procrastination in addressing public concerns, and can lead to sometimes considerable delays in not only communication, but in the length of time a problem festers on.

Given that the railway has an obligation to “cause only such noise and vibration as is reasonable” (clause 95.1 of the Canada Transportation Act) we think that the “leave it for later” approach currently in place rings rather hollow in terms of taking seriously its obligations, and its responsibilities to its resident stakeholders.

Read more about CN’s perspective on public issues including noise on its website.

Contacting Canadian Pacific (CP Rail)

CP Rail provides the following contact information on the In Your Community page.

Phone: 1-800-766-7912 (Community Connect Line)

Email: Email Form

 Community Advisory Panels:  Established in 14 communities.

CP has this to say about its Community Connect Line:

“In 2000, CP launched the Community Connect Line, a toll-free service that provides education and addresses caller inquiries about CP and its operations. It offers a single point of contact for local governments, residents, and stakeholders and ensures issues are managed promptly and consistently. Issues can range from proximity concerns such as railway noise, to level crossings, to questions about railway safety and train frequencies.”

CP also discusses a secondary program, its Community Advisory Panels, on its website:

“Community Advisory Panels In locations where our railway plays a significant role in local life, community relations staff will occasionally establish a joint railway and Community Advisory Panel (CAP).

To maintain and build on our reputation as a responsible neighbour, we have established CAPs in more than 14 communities. CAPs, with representatives from municipal government, local CP managers, local members of the community and, occasionally, adjacent customer operations, serve as a forum for addressing rail-related issues such as safety, new facility construction, traffic and noise concerns and incident response.”

Read more about CP’s views on proximity, noise, vibration, and other concerns: Living near the railway and their Corporate Social Responsibility Report.

Are These Communication Mechanisms Sufficient?

Given what CP has set into place, why are we hearing from so many people so thoroughly upset with its operations? And why is live access to CN’s Public Inquiries line so completely out of sync with the needs of the public it’s intended to serve?

We’ve provided CN’s and CP’s links so you can review the railway’s perspective regarding railway noise and vibration, and their viewpoint on these and other commmunity stakeholder issues.

The links will either inform, or possibly infuriate you, depending on whether you’ve had enough sleep, have been listening to locomotives left running for hours on end, creating vibration inside your home…been woken up by whistling…had your home shaken by the impact of shunting trains…been driven to distraction by the nails-on-chalkboard sound of squealing wheels…having to shut the window again to try to keep out diesel fumes … and contacting the railway… yet again …

© Copyright 2011 RailandReason.com

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23 Comments
  1. Jeff Willsie permalink

    If you do not like living beside the railway you should move. The railway cannot move.
    Jeff Willsie
    President
    Ontario Southland Railway

    • Jeff:

      You are quite right, the railway can’t move. But the railway can invest in technology and adopt practices that reduce their impact on local communities. The railway of the 21st Century is not the same as that of the 19th or 20th centuries. Trains are longer, heavier and noisier, with a greater impact on people and the environment. People who moved into their homes 10, 20, 30 and 50 years ago are facing issues related to rail traffic they had no reason to expect.

      The railways to some extent operate at the pleasure of the Canadian public. The economic importance of the railways is significant, and because of that the federal government has generally looked the other way when communities raise concerns about unreasonable levels of noise, vibration and pollution. But what has been the norm in the past may not be the norm for the future. A number of countries are starting to impose serious restrictions on industries long considered to be national assets that operate at the expense of the environment and society.

      There seems to be an opportunity for the railways and communities to discuss how best to mitigate the impact of greater rail traffic. But it seems the railways don’t even want to discuss the issue as it may be seen as an admission that all is not right and perhaps the communities have a reasonable point. And any solutions the industry can imagine would reduce efficiency and negatively impact profits. So it has become a taboo subject in the railway boardrooms.

      But in the end there will need to be some plan to mitigate the impact of the ever increasing railway traffic. So Jeff, hang tight and keep to the party line. You may well be retired before the industry actually has to productively address the impact of their business on people and the environment.

    • Gary Prokovich permalink

      How about i come to your house and blow my horn all day while you are trying to sleep. There are places that have cameras to take pictures of people cars and pedestrians and give them fines for trying to beat trains at croossings. In relation to comment tro moving you should haveb your head ripped off!!!!!! These trains at Southernn BC Rail have no mufflers and the smoke is so bad you cannot breath with your windows open. What happened to pollution control and climate change? These ****** are out of control andv should be fined severely and thrown in jail for their arrogance and disrespect. AND NO they were not here first.

  2. Jen permalink

    Hey Jeff, I really can’t believe that you would say that. Don’t write a comment if you don’t know the situation. I am so insulted by you and your fellow #&?%$X@.
    Is that how you really feel. First of all we CANNOT afford to move, i am not rich as you are. Second of all on principle, the trains should not be idling DIRECTLY in a residential backyard. The trains never USE TO idle there (and they shouldn’t) but CP just went ahead and started years back doing what they want.
    It is TOTALLY irresponsible for them to not consider the health and safety of the children they are DIRECTLY responsible for polluting. I wish you would give me your phone number so I could invite you to my house and maybe you would see that it is not acceptable for CP to just show up one day and decide to use my back yard as a train yard stop. I can’t afford to move, I think CP should help me to move then don’t you?
    Don’t demean me again when you don’t know my situation.

  3. tammy permalink

    How about the people who built before the railway came in ? ….. our Town here in Golden BC is becoming a ‘rail yard’ I think CPR should move the Town because they have destroyed it. I’ve lived in Golden all my life and since the Town brought in the Yard is has gone down hill … heavy emissions from many engines idling( for 8 months of the year the smart start is ineffective) the shunting and low frequency vibration that is so invasive you cannot block it out … they should have built the Yard elsewhere not on a precious wetland……………. sad.

    Tammy Tymchuk
    Golden BC

    • trainjane permalink

      Hello Tammy,

      Your story is an example of the problems and conflicts that can occur when a residential presence precedes the railway, or its expansion.

      You make an interesting point about Smartstart, the idle reduction technology used in some diesel locomotives as being “ineffective.”

      Originally, we noted that it was used year round, in all weather. When it was particularly cold out, engines would shut down then start up on their own as required. Noise, vibration and fumes were reduced considerably.

      Now, it seems, it’s back to square one, with idling being on a continual basis below a given set point, usually 5 degrees Celsius.

      We can’t think of any other industry that can leave diesel engines for longer periods of time now than it did a decade ago as a result of this apparent alteration.

      • Tammy permalink

        I dunno … but i don’t give up .. they don’t tell us anything .. (worst process we have ever been though) we have a ‘Formal Complaint’ flied with the CTA . Its ********. . . taking almost two years .. All’s I can say is people ‘have rights’ .. they are killing us with their emission’s without being accountable. Not to mention the low frequency vibration .. that you just cannot escape 24/7. Totally taken away our Quality of Life and Sense of Space… BULLIES. And we were here before the Yard was built. Case Closed.

  4. Jeff Willsie permalink

    This is rebuttal to Tammy.
    People who built before the railway came in? Te railway, CPR, has been operating there since 1886. When did you move in? I would expect long after 1886. I see Golden says on its website CPR is one of its 3 main industries.
    If yoiu dont like the whistle get the municipality to pass a whistle bylaw. If you do not like the noise & vibration & other issues that come with railways, MOVE! The railways carry the commodities that drive the Canadian economy. I do not believe any government will do anything to adversly affect the economic well being of Canada.
    Jeff Willsie
    President
    Ontario Southland Railway

  5. Jeff Willsie permalink

    Hi Trane Jane
    I see that oil from Alberta & Sask. is going to start moving South & West by rail due to the pipeline issues,as i predicted.
    I have been reviewing all the posts & a question has occured to me. What exactly is your your opinion of reasonable noise & vibration for an ongoing busy railway operation.
    Whistle noise does not count as any municipality can pass a bylaw if they wish.
    Happy New Year
    Jeff Willsie
    President
    Ontario Southland Railway

  6. Steve Host permalink

    Tammy, Golden BC exists because of the railway, no one in the town will be able to claim they were there before the Railway

    Source: http://www.canadianrockies.net/lakelouise/golden/history-of-golden-bc.html

    • Tammy permalink

      Not so. The railway was here correct, .. the Yard however was not. There are people believe me that built here before the Yard was built.
      This page is not a place for an argument. People have rights.

  7. Gary Prokovich permalink

    BC Southern Rail in New Westminster BC on River Drive ******* The smoke ansd noise is so bad you have to come down here and watch for awhile to beleive what they get away with. I have contacted many souces including Health asnd Safety and they said we can phone them. What the HeLL are they there for…

  8. Tammy permalink

    and ….we have these old dinosaur engines in Golden (at least 6) that they use to do brake tests yard work, switching etc etc . they run continually all summer long as they are not equipped with smart start. Although CPR boosts about their ‘state of art equipment’ . . . they use the north end of the Yard in Golden as ‘grand central’ and it is right in front of our property. We will not be bullied out of our home and property. People have rights.

  9. Jeff Willsie permalink

    Mr Bossart
    The railways have made a huge investment in welded rail on most main lines in Canada. This means even with heavier longer trains there is less noise & vibration than before. Many trains or few trains, just depends on the economy & traffic available. Folks living beside the railway should expect big changes in traffic patterns. It is the nature of railroads.
    Railways do not operate at the pleasure of the public, they operate on the demands of buisness.Buisneses run this country, pay for everything, so you can expect little sympathy for being so foolish as to move beside a railway & then whine about the natural noise & vibration created by the trains 24-7
    In almost all cases the communites built up around the railway.
    If you dont like living beside the railway you should move.

    The economic might & influence of the buisneses using the railways is far more than complaining neighbours.
    Jeff Willsie
    President
    Ontario Southland Railway

  10. Jeff Willsie permalink

    Gary Propovich
    Obviously you are a barbarian. i would never talk about ripping train Janes head off regardless of our difference of opinion.
    Jeff Willsie
    pres OSR

  11. Jeff Willsie permalink

    Tammy
    I would expect any yard taking land the railway did not own to begin with was approved by the government.In order for progress to happen the good of the countrys transportation system outweighs the good of a few. Such is progress.
    Jeff Willsie
    Pres OSR

  12. Jeff Willsie permalink

    Jen
    The railway can hardly be expected to rectify your problems related to moving in next to the railway. You made the decision to move in by the railway.The railway is always changing to meet the needs of the shippers & changing traffic patterns.If you cant afford a better property in your area maby you should move to Fredricton NB. It is very nice there & property is cheap. I could not afford to move to Toronto or Vancouver so im not as rich as you think.If i thought living next to the railway was realy doing harm to my child i think id move.
    Jeff Willsie
    Pres OSR

    • gary prokovich permalink

      you should have lived in the western days when there was no law. your comments that people should move is outrageous; get a life. come see me i’ll fix your attitude.

      • trainjane permalink

        Better yet, let’s just fix the regulations…

  13. gary prokovich permalink

    all the railroads need an attitude adjustment,everybody that’s not afraid should get together and blockade the railways province wide. Since the Judges take forever and will not stand up for working [people who would like to get some sleep before they go to work the next day.The Federal Judge in Vancouver BC was supposed to make a decision on whistles and bells;excessive noise from apprx. 11:00 PM to 7:00 AM. Did somebody get bought off?

    • trainjane permalink

      Hello Gary, we understand your frustration…however, we strongly recommend against any sort of blockade or similar action which involves trespassing on the railway’s land. That could well lead to the railway taking action against you instead…as for the Federal Court of Appeal issue in New Westminster, we understand that it is ongoing, and that the only thing being “bought” is time, due to the complexity of the issue.

  14. gary prokovich permalink

    I think stupid people that say you should move have the railroads buy us out.We never had as much noise as of the last 3 or 5 years until AMERICANS started up everything and treating people like crap! I paid several 1000 $ for double glazed windows which i never needed now the engine noise is so loud &the smoke youn can”t open your windows without having a Diesel Dinner.So what happened to pollution noise control? I know’ raise carbon taxes because it is crap. Politicians think everybody is an idiot which is so far from the truth it makes you want to puke.

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