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The Social Impact of Railways

by on January 19, 2012

We recently received the following comment from Mr. Josef Bossart, a Parry Sound, Ontario resident, whose blog, Parry Sounds & Sights, discusses a variety of subjects, including rail transportation issues within the community. Mr. Bossart submitted this comment in a reply to the President of Ontario Southland Railway, Mr. Jeff Willsie, in the recent post FAQ: Contacting Canada’s Two Largest Railways With Your Railway Noise and Vibration Problem.

Those of you familiar with Mr. Willsie through this blog will know that it is his frequently-repeated opinion that:

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

While we respect Mr. Willsie’s right to his opinion, we cannot agree with it.

All too often, it seems, residential conflicts occur after railways initiate changes to their operations, resulting in devastating consequences in the quality of life for impacted residents.

Many of the affected residents had previously lived with their railway neighbours for many years with few difficulties. As Mr. Bossart describes below, the changes that the railway would ultimately make often could not possibly have been anticipated. Residents then found that they were expected to absorb the impact of the railway’s changed operations, often without notice or consultation.

We believe it’s time, as rail transportation continues to grow, to opt for a more socially-sustainable approach. Ideally, this should integrate, not exclude, the community in the planning stages of changes to rail operations. It’s time for railways to cooperatively work with resident stakeholders to find mutually acceptable solutions.

We don’t agree that the only option for people affected by railway operations is to move.

We think that the only moving that is necessary here is a shift in attitude by any similarly-thinking railway executives that their company’s noise, vibration, and second-hand smoke from idling diesel locomotives is somehow not their problem, and impact on the community, not their concern.

We hope that the President of Ontario Southland Railway for whom the following was written will, at least, consider Mr. Bossart’s remarks below:


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.” 

– Josef Bossart –

© Copyright 2012

  1. Jeff Willsie permalink

    Hi, All.

    Train Jane, you seem quite taken with Mr. Bossart’s letter. I hope you read the part where he suggests I may well be retired before the rail industry has to productively address the impact of their business on people and the environment. I won’t retire for at least another 10 years, if ever. So, if you stay living beside the railway you have at least 10 more years of aggravation and as I have written before moving is your best option!

    Kevin O’Leary (CBC) said, ‘All that really matters is money.’ I agree. Business generates all the money for everything in this country, all the infrastructure, all the civil servants wages & benefits, all municipal spending, welfare, healthcare, absolutely everything which makes business the most powerful political force in Canada.

    Railways carry a vast amount of business product and as the cost of oil increases more & more business products will travel by rail as it is far more efficient than trucking. As oil disappears, the railways will be electrified and most freight will travel by rail to transfer locations all across Canada.

    The portion of the Canadian population living beside the railway is, I shall guess at 2%, of that number I shall guess 1% whine and complain about the noise, vibration and diesel fumes which is a problem created by these folks personal decision to live beside the railway.

    When the government cannot get enough money from business and their employees, they borrow. The borrowing is the cause of the global financial problems today. Governments are actively promoting more business to generate more money to pay for our civilization.

    The government is not going to restrict the operation of the railways that carry the products of business across our great country. The need of the 98% of the population not living beside the railway trumps the need of the 2% that live beside a railway corridor and complain about the very nature of the railway.

    We are entering the next golden age of rail as oil disappears. My grandfather, a locomotive engineer on the double track New York Central railway in St. Thomas, Ontario said in the 1940s there was a train every 10 minutes in both directions 24/7. In the not too distant future, single tracks shall be doubled, double tracks shall be tripled and more yards will be built.

    As oil disappears, no more air planes and folks will be back on the rails. What a glorious future for electrified rail. If you do not like living by the railway you should move now as volumes are now starting to increase and this will not stop over the next 100 years. I’m sure there will be an unstoppable 75 to 100 percent increase in rail traffic. I read Mr. Bossart’s blog and he seems quite intelligent so I’m sure he can see that in the oil-less world electrified railways shall be the transportation king!

    Jeff Willsie, President
    Ontario Southland Railway

  2. Jeff Willsie permalink

    J Bossart
    give me a call. the Phon # on the wabsite
    Jeff Willsie

  3. Denise permalink

    Mr. Willsie’s remarks are worthless in my opinion, as I posted before : Yes the railroad was here when I bought my house, HOWEVER rail traffic has tripled, approximately, and is expected to double again in the next year, the weight of rail cars has increased, the length of trains has increased, time schedules have changed to accomodate increased traffic and so has the speed of the trains,

    Because of bottle necks east and west of the city. This means both trains have to clear this bottle neck, one entering, one leaving, which means speed limits are being ignored, noise and vibration, property damage, sleep deprivation has increased and slamming on the brakes which means slamming cars together, the sound waves coming from these multiple explosions rattles and breaks windows, imagine what it is doing to people’s ear drums —

    Mr. Willsie, stop ignoring posts like mine and carrying on a pretense that nothing has changed in decades with rail operations, you have no credibility because you ignore the facts completely.

    FOUR train have passed my house in the last half an hour – when I moved in there were approx 6-10 a day, now its every half an hour/every fifteen minutes —

    THIS is not the same railroad operation that was here when I bought my house

    QUOTE: If you do not like living beside the railway you should move. The railway cannot move.”
    Jeff Willsie
    Ontario Southland Railway End Quote

    If you want to buy my house for the price I paid for it prior to the traffic, weight of rail car and train length increase I will gladly sell it to you — just send me a certified cheque and its all yours, mind you given the noise and vibration problems we now have you will be paying approx $50,000.00 over the market price of it today but hey, WTH take one for the “team” you champion Mr. Willsie

    We even got a property tax adjustment on our homes given that the CN has destroyed the value in them because no one wants to live in what amounts to an earthquake zone now

  4. Jeff Willsie permalink

    Dear Denise
    Property is a real estate investment. You no doubt bought your property at a lower price than the property would have fetched if it was not close to the railway. The traffic on the railway goes up & down with the economy,& traffic offered by buisness. To suggest the railway is responsible for your losses due to a foolish investment decision is rediculous. You ignored the basic fact,obvious to any astute person, that the railway traffic volumes go up & down.Nothing stays the same forever.Location, location, location governs property values.It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that as oil becomes more expensive & disapears railways shall cary more traffic.
    New residential development should not be allowed whithin 1/2 a mile of railway rights of way. existing residential has to be governed by buyer beware.
    Jeff Willsie
    Ontario Southland Railway

    • trainjane permalink

      Hello Mr. Willsie,

      No, nothing stays forever. That includes the idea that somehow the people living by the railway are solely responsible for the railway’s noise and vibration, and should have been able to predict, years ago for many of them, what the future would bring.

      Many of these people now facing a serious problem previously had a positive relationship or co-existence with the railway. What warnings did your industry provide to these folks back then? What about when the railway expands its operation closer to homes?

      You say that “new residential development should not be allowed within (sic) ½ mile of a railway rights (sic) of way.” So, what does your proposed proximity plan do to address that half mile of land throughout major metropolitan centres such as Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver?
      Do you propose to have the rail industry purchase it?

      They’re not making any more land, Mr. Willsie and it will only become even more valuable as time goes on. Will you be bringing your idea forward with the Railway Association of Canada as your proposed proximity measurements are far greater than their current recommendations?

      In our opinion, railways played a significant part in the creation of this problem, and therefore need to step up to, rather than sidestep, the plate and be part of the solution.

  5. Jeff Willsie permalink

    Hi Train jane
    Why are my comments waiting moderation for so long.
    Is it because the truth is contrary to your opinion?
    Jeff Willsie
    Ontario Southland Railway

    • trainjane permalink

      Hello Mr. Willsie, take it as a compliment of sorts, if you will, that we take the time to consider and discuss your submitted comments.

      Some of them we consider so important as to feature them as posts, such as “Railway President Agrees: All That Matters is Money.”

      As for the truth, Mr. Willsie, what can be said with absolute certainty is that we hold opinions completely contrary to each other.

      It is also quite obvious that we have no problem publishing comments from those who hold completely different viewpoints on the topics that this blog openly discusses.

      We trust this clears the matter up for you.

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