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Railway Noise and Vibration: Point St Charles, Quebec

by on September 1, 2013

We recently received a comment from Mr. Pieter Sijpkes, which included a link to a recent editorial that he had written, and was subsequently published, by the Montreal Gazette on August 22, 2013, “Letter: Freight trains in Point-St-Charles and St-Henri.”

Sijpkes describes himself as being recently retired from teaching at the McGill School of Architecture, and lives in the Point St Charles area. He states that “The very negative influence of shunting yards on human habitation was studied by my students and I in several projects over the years.”

He has further indicated that he was one of the founders of “Propoint,” a group that previously tried to reason with the railways.  He notes that the community group “Nous et les trains,” (Us and the trains) has since renewed those efforts.

Sijpkes wrote his original letter to “broadcast the archaic state of Canadian railway legislation,” and suggested to us that “the wider distributed the message is, the better.”

We agree.

Sijpkes told us that “The situation of my own house has given me lots of reasons to stay focused on the train shunting problems, since these problems are getting more and more serious.”

“Longer, heavier, (sometimes double-decker)  trains carry loads that can be explosive or volatile are increasingly endangering life, polluting the air and ruining the acoustic environment  in the vicinity of passing trains, but particularly in trains being shunted back and forth. (And, as I explain in the article, shunting activities now take place well outside the yards!)”

We think that Mr. Sijpkes’ editorial letter is relevant to many communities across Canada, and that his message is one that many people facing serious problems with railway noise and vibration will find resonance with.

With permission from Mr. Sijpkes, and credit to the Montreal Gazette –


Point St Charles, Quebec:

Note the proximity of homes to the rail yard.

Note the proximity of homes to the rail yard.

(In response to “Municipalities seek disclosure” Montreal Gazette, Aug. 20)

By Pieter Sijpkes

The timely article makes the same point about the transportation of hazardous goods by rail that community groups, not only in Point-St-Charles and St-Henri, but all over Canada have been making for many years. And, quite evidently, all their protests have been without any success.

The article mentions the Sept. 24, 2011, derailment of six cars of a 91-car train travelling on one of the many tracks located high on the embankment that dissects Point-St-Charles.

Hearing on the radio that six cars were teetering on the embankment, then seeing from my window the feverish coming and goings of CN repair crews, and not knowing what was in those derailed cars, made the recent CN media statements that there was nothing to worry about and that supplying first responders a detailed list of tanker and freight car contents would be a hassle seem otherworldly, not to say third-worldly.

However, the article fails however to observe the elephant in the room. The elevated tracks in Point-St-Charles form one of the busiest railway corridors in Canada; the scandal is that they are, in addition, used around the clock as a full-fledged shunting yard.

With longer and longer trains being shunted at the former Grant Trunk railway yards to the east, over the years this noisy process is more and more spilling over from the yard onto the tracks traversing the middle of the Point.

As a result, many of us no longer live next door to a shunting yard: we are the shunting yard. Trains transporting who knows what are shunted back and forth by sometimes as many as three smoke-belching diesel engines, day and night, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year; open windows or the use of the yard are out of the question — just getting a breath of fresh air is often a chore.

Imagine living in Dorval, having planes that land roaring back up into the sky and land again, over and over, madly banging into other planes on the way up and down. Or imagine living next door to a plant manufacturing heavy trucks and having the assembly line down the middle of your main street.

The Lac-Mégantic disaster has received enormous coverage in the press, and for good reason; Canada’s railways were incorporated before Confederation, and the colonial mentality that reigned at that time has persisted in the railway sphere: imperiousness, disregard for collateral damage inflicted by their actions, lack of transparency — the list goes on.

The time for a complete overhaul of the self-serving railway legislation is long overdue.

Making the contents of freight and tanker cars known to civic authorities should be no problem in this age of instant communication. (Though electronic communication has not really trickled down to to the shunting community yet: like in the good old pre-Confederation days, noisy brass bells are still used to communicate a reversal of direction of the train to the shunting crews, and, in the process, to hundreds of hapless neighbours, around the clock!)

Even with perfect security measures, living next to the railway tracks will expose any neighbourhood to a remote chance of a cataclysm, the way everyone has to live with the chance of an airplane falling out of the sky.

One can live with that. The real problem in our neighbourhood is the daily certainty of having to live with air polluted by poisonous fumes, the ear-shattering noise of shunting and the greatly increased chance of an accident.

There is no lack of space in Canada to locate shunting activity away from human habitation — it’s a lack of will by authorities and what appears to be an ingrained attitude of “being above the law” on the part of the Canadian National Railway Company.

Peter Sijpkes


  1. Lara permalink

    Great post

    Lara ryan-murphy construction inc.

    • trainjane permalink

      Thank you! The credit goes to Mr. Sijpkes on this one.

      • Andrew permalink

        Mr.Sijpkes moved to a place beside a railway then decided to complain about trains. :$

        • trainjane permalink

          Wrong. Mr. Sjipkes moved to a place by the railway, then, as explained by Mr. Sjipkes, the railway changed its operations significantly in a way that severely impacted Mr. Sjipkes, then Mr. Sjipkes complained about the railway…

          • Andrew permalink

            So if 250 cars drive past your house instead of 50, you’re going to complain about the street? :$

          • trainjane permalink

            In two recent examples that I observed recently, there was no need. In the first instance, a change in traffic flow resulted in homes along one stretch of road along of Canada’s major cities experiencing a major increase in volume of cars and trucks directly behind it. There were no complaints after the diversion was completed. That was due to the fact that a noise wall for residents was constructed and completed at the same time as the diversion.

            The second example was the widening of a major arterial route for trucks through a densely-populated suburb. The road expanded closer to homes so traffic could move more freely. And residents there also received acoustic protection as part of the project.

            Both the community and the road transportation network benefitted in the end.

            It’s great to see when transportation projects place a priority on mitigative measures for the community. But then there’s rail…

  2. trainjane permalink

    Thank you for your link, Mr. Bossart.

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