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Federal Government Launches Review of Canada Transportation Act

by on September 23, 2014

A Critical Opportunity For Citizens to Voice Their Opinions About Current Railway Noise and Vibration Regulations

It’s been 7 years since the Federal Government in Ottawa finally passed much-needed regulations addressing railway noise and vibration into law.

This was done by amending The Canada Transportation Act, reinstating provisions to hold the railways to account after CN Rail successfully fought back against a ruling made by the Canadian Transportation Agency in 2000 in favour of residents’ noise and vibration complaints about CN’s operations at a rail yard around Oakville, Ontario. CN succeeded in overturning both the ruling and noise and vibration regulations on the basis of technicalities.

A Regulatory Void for 7 Years

Rather than taking the initiative and self-regulating after the successful court challenge, Canada’s railways opted for the next 7 years (2000-2007) to ignore growing problems and conflicts with residents in proximity to rail operations. As a result, the problem in many communities with railway noise and vibration was simply left to fester out of control.

That was until enough fed-up citizens demanded that regulations be reinstated by Ottawa.

And so, in a rather rare show of solidarity, elected Members of Parliament of all political stripes in the House of Commons in Ottawa supported  amendments to The Canada Transportation Act re-addressing railway noise and vibration in order to give relief to the many communities across Canada struggling with this issue.

The Railway’s End-Run to Gut Regulation

However, after inching along throughout Parliament for months, during the final reading of the Bill, a lobby of railway interests approached our unelected Senate, bypassing elected Members of Parliament, with tales of horrors for the rail industry and a litany of woes, should the Bill pass into law. So, at the 11th hour (and counting) the railway lobby persuaded the Senate to gut key provisions of the Bill and send it back for passage, just as Parliament was due to break for summer.

Many elected M.P.’s were outraged by the actions of the Senate, and with time running out, the watered – down provisions were passed into law as follows:

95.1 When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company shall cause only such noise and vibration as is reasonable, taking into account

(a) its obligations under sections 113 and 114, if applicable;

(b) its operational requirements; and

(c) the area where the construction or operation takes place.

2007, c. 19, s. 29.

Notably removed from the Amendment was:

(d) the potential impact on those living adjacent the railway

In my opinion, this changed the context of the Bill significantly, hinging the entire argument onto the more nebulous, free-flowing concept of what is “reasonable” instead.

And that has proven a disaster for numerous people and communities that continue to live with railway noise and vibration problems that have fallen through the cracks of this legislation in the 7 years since.

Why I Like Cape Bretoners

That is, until recently when the Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport, announced that it is time to launch a comprehensive review of the Canada Transportation Act, the Act in which noise and vibration regulations are contained.

The review has been called to address “the catastrophic “Lac Mégantic derailment and the unprecedented backlog of grain shipments in 2013 have, for various reasons, made the consideration of issues related to rail transport an early priority for the CTA Review.”

I had the opportunity to ask Minister Raitt directly in person earlier this summer at an event where she was a keynote speaker if the public would have an opportunity to participate in the review process.

As I have an admitted bias for Cape Bretoners, the Minister, who hails from Sydney, Nova Scotia, did not disappoint. Yes, the public would have an opportunity to provide input into the review process was her reply.

Canadians Now Have an Important Opportunity and Responsibility

And herein is contained a great opportunity for Canadian citizens to request a review of the clauses of the Act that are intended to address railway noise and vibration, and their current effectiveness.

The Canadian Transportation Agency can only operate within a very specific mandate that they have been given to preside over a complex dispute resolution process for complaints about railway noise and vibration.

My opinion is that the current wording of the law is too vague and lacking in detail to effectively tackle the problem. The process of formalizing a noise and vibration complaint is simply too complex for many seeking help.

The vagaries of the concept of “reasonable” levels of noise and vibration exposure, the crux of the existing law, is out of sync given the mounting medical evidence and definitive criteria on the impacts of noise upon human health. At the minimum, “reasonable” exposure to noise and vibration should be extended to include limits based on both the medical and scientific data currently available.

In other words, it’s time to set some actual, measurable, clearly-defined limits as to how much exposure to noise and vibration any one person should be exposed to on a regular basis from rail operations.

Transport Minister Sets The Review Into Motion

In preparation for the review, the Minister has since appointed six eminent Canadians to conduct the review, headed by the Honourable David L. Emerson, with Advisors: Mr. Murad Al-Katib, Mr. David Cardin, Mr. Duncan Dee, Mrs. Marie-Lucie Morin, and Ms. Marcella Szel. The review will be also be supported by a Secretariat.

From a Government Website:

“The Government of Canada regularly reviews its policies and regulations to ensure they serve Canada’s current and future needs. The Review provides a unique opportunity to consider how the national transportation system can best be leveraged to support Canada’s continuing economic growth. It reaffirms the Government of Canada’s commitment to meeting the transportation challenges and opportunities of the next decade in a sustainable manner.”

The last such review took place in 2001.

A government website detailing the review notes the following:

“The submission process is an important component of the review. It is hoped that this document will stimulate ideas and discussions. Interested parties are encouraged to send submissions to the Secretariat before December 30, 2014. The Chair, Advisors and the Secretariat want to hear from interested parties on the major issues to be addressed to fulfill the mandate of the Review.”

For further information, including for sending a submission, please contact the Secretariat at:

Canada Transportation Act Review Secretariat
350 Albert Street, Suite 330
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N5

(613) 998-8405    (613)998-8405 FREE

Following Up With The Canadian Transportation Agency

I also followed up with The Canadian Transportation Agency about the review process, specifically if there would be an opportunity for concerned citizens to comment on existing provisions in the Act for railway noise and vibration.

Their reply:

“One of the questions that the review has been asked to examine is how safety and well-being concerns related to rail transportation through communities can be addressed. Submitted comments will be gladly accepted.”

This review process, I believe, provides a framework in which to request a review of existing noise and vibration regulations, to evaluate their effectiveness since their introduction 7 years ago, and to delve into examples of failed complaints for closer analysis as to what “reasonable,’ as currently defined, actually translates out to on a regular basis for many Canadians.

It’s Time To Address Diesel Fumes From Idling Locomotives in Communities

I believe that further protection for the public is an absolute necessity.  Railway noise and vibration continues to be a serious problem in Canada, with ever- increasing freight volumes, longer, heavier trains, and a total lack of any sort of direct protection for the public when it comes to the issue of diesel emissions from idling locomotives.

It’s time to set up a framework for railways to cooperate with local health officials regarding their diesel emissions, rather than the pollute-and-protest mode of challenging the jurisdiction of health authorities who attempt to intervene. It’s time for air quality for residents in around rail operations to be made a priority and receive regulatory protection.

It’s Time To Get Involved and Act!

It’s time to get involved, participate in the review process, and let our elected M.P.’s  know it’s time to re-examine how railway noise, vibration, and fumes are currently affecting communities – and make necessary changes.

But most of all, it’s clearly time to re-insert clause (d) back into the Act, so that railways must take into account in the course of their operations (d) the potential impact on those living adjacent the railway.

And Senators need to be elected, accountable to the public, in tune with our elected representatives from the House of Commons and their reasoning and rationale rather than having another caviar and camembert pity party for Canada’s railways. At the very least, our Senate should be made to understand how their intervention and scaling back of a well-written Bill back in June 2007 has created enormous consequences for too many Canadians, and must not happen again.




Sources for this blog article include content from the following websites:



Here is the text of the existing provisions regarding railway noise and vibration from The Canada Transportation Act:

95.1 When constructing or operating a railway, a railway company shall cause only such noise and vibration as is reasonable, taking into account

(a) its obligations under sections 113 and 114, if applicable;

(b) its operational requirements; and

(c) the area where the construction or operation takes place.

2007, c. 19, s. 29.


Marginal note:Guidelines

2(1) The Agency shall issue, and publish in any manner that it considers appropriate, guidelines with respect to

     (a) the elements that the Agency will use to determine whether a railway company is complying with section 95.1; and

     (b) the collaborative resolution of noise and vibration complaints relating to the construction or operation of railways.


Marginal note:Consultations

(2) The Agency must consult with interested parties, including municipal governments, before issuing any guidelines.


Marginal note:Not statutory instruments

(3) The guidelines are not statutory instruments within the meaning of the Statutory Instruments Act.

2007, c. 19, s. 29.


Marginal note:Complaints and investigations

3(1) On receipt of a complaint made by any person that a railway company is not complying with section 95.1, the Agency may order the railway company to undertake any changes in its railway construction or operation that the Agency considers reasonable to ensure compliance with that section.


Marginal note:Restriction

(2) If the Agency has published guidelines under paragraph 95.2(1)(b), it must first satisfy itself that the collaborative measures set out in the guidelines have been exhausted in respect of the noise or vibration complained of before it conducts any investigation or hearing in respect of the complaint.

2007, c. 19, s. 29.

© Copyright 2014

  1. Walter Pfefferle permalink

    They sure don’t mind the thousands of jobs the Ford Motor Company plant provides and is the only switching done in Oakville. Those homes that now surrounded the plant were paid for by wages at that plant. What next, complaining about the noise from the GO trains going through Oakville each day? I live a block from CN’s mainline and about 60 trains a day roll through there day and night and I don’t even hear them anymore. People want jobs but don’t want railways or highway going by their doors.

    • trainjane permalink

      Maybe time to get your hearing checked, Mr. Pfefferle. At least it explains why you refuse to listen to any concerns raised about rail noise, at least on this blog.

      There needs to be a limit as to how much noise communities are subjected to. Exceed those limits, and it’s time to review when the noise is occurring, what can be done to reduce it, and consideration of noise mitigation measures.

      Sometimes, as we have heard, basic changes as to where in rail yards work at night is done can solve the problem itself. That’s not always possible, but we have heard from folks where this resolved the severity of the noise.

      It’s time to think outside the box on this, the status quo is no longer the cheapest option, given the very real harm we feel is being done to citizens health dealing with this issue.

    • Yes people want jobs & a responsible rail industry. They don’t want rail companies making more noise than is necessary to do their job; they don’t want rail companies operating in an unsafe manner needlessly blowing up towns.

  2. Thank you Trainjane.
    We will definitely be writing voicing our concerns. It’s good that the public is allowed to have input for the review of the Canada Transportation Act. Hopefully the government will rethink it’s repeal of public input for new regulations in regards to the Railway Safety Act and the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act. The public’s inclusion in the discussion is so important in order to create good policy that ensures public safety and to foster good relationships between the railways and communities.

    Safe Rail Communities

    • trainjane permalink

      Yes, please do write in your concerns. Also, I anticipate that your group could also request to make a submission to the Parliamentary Committee that will be studying this Bill between readings.

      Your MP should be able to help you set that up. Your presentation can be by teleconference. It gives you the floor and the attention of those Parliamentarians looking at the nuts and bolts of the Bill and gets you recognized.

      You must tailor your presentation to exactly fit within the scope of the Bill. On this basis, I recommend going online and reading the text of the entire Canada Transportation Act to see where your group’s views coincide.

      Take a strong cup of coffee with you, (not Tim Horton’s) as it is not light reading.

      I suggest an approach to request an Amendment to protect communities from coal dust exposure utilizing whatever means your group considers best.

      You can state your concerns about coal shipments, but this Bill, in my opinion, would not consider their reduction or elimination on any basis so reducing immediate harm, and requiring cooperation with local health and air quality officials in the handing of coal is your best option.

      Again, this is all merely my opinion, but this is definitely your time to shine.

  3. Mike Haveruk permalink

    I live near (approximately a mile away)from a cn rail yard in north Vancouver BC, the unbelievable noise (BLASTING OF HORNS the worst culprit. all night every night.)This has been going on since cn took over from BCR roughly 11 years ago.We have had no meaningful action from cn despite everything we have tried to do,including having our MP(John Weston) come down at 2 AM on a Sunday night, Monday morning to listen to the RACKET. (It was on the news and local papers.)cn will do nothing unless forced to.KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.If this can be of use to anyone else please pass it on.( I have daily incident reports going back to day one.)

    • trainjane permalink

      Mike, you’ve raised a very important point.

      Train whistles are in a completely different category than rail noise and vibration.

      So, in my opinion, it’s time to consider alternate warning and signaling methods, with whistle use being still an option if crew see an impending hazard.

      I think it’s time to look at primarily visual warning systems at rail crossings with illuminated gates. My idea is for a modified traffic light system and camera to record any idiots that try to cut in front of an approaching train, just like they do with current whistling.

      Lose your license for a year for blasting through a red light at a crossing, and that might actually make a difference.

      It’s my view that whistles are losing their effectiveness in our “plugged in” world.

      Cities balk at the expense of whistle cessation all too often, while rail companies want to keep the status quo as it’s cheap and put on the backs of their employees when something goes wrong.

      Ask your MP to submit some recordings of a typical night of whistle blasting to be p,ayed during the review, along with details about proximity of homes, etc.

      The best – and long shot – outcome would be to have Parliament recognize formally that railway auditory warning devices are increasingly becoming a threat to human health due to sleep disruption, and increasing levels of high decibel noise exposure.

      That’s a real long shot, but we have to start somewhere in addressing night time whistle use in communities where this is a very serious problem.

      Further, I think it’s overdue to seriously look at implementing “stop and proceed” alternatives as low volume, low speed crossings at night.

      And, also good to remind Parliament, in regards to crude oil shipment, that pipelines don’t whistle…

  4. Trainjane it would be helpful to email all the members of your site asking them to contact the Secretariat & Lisa Raitt. Perhaps your could set up a pre-prepared letter similar to what David Suzuki does.

    • trainjane permalink

      In this case Ed, as it’s a formal process, we think it best to simply make a submission to the Review advising them of the situation in your community, and involving your respective M.P.

  5. Lara permalink

    This excites me to no end! Well written piece, although I’m not a Cape Breton’er I figure New Brunswick is pretty darn close 🙂 so I like that you like us! Ha I want to align the troops to get our submission well tuned for the Dec deadline. It would be great if you had a few moments to share you thoughts on this and the process. I hope you are well. Talk soon,



    • trainjane permalink

      Great to hear from you. We’ll go over this once I’m back from Europe. How are things in Calgary?

  6. trainjane permalink

    Thank you, and we remind our readers to also view an excellent blog, “Railroaded” that provides valuable insight into how crude is handled, and questions rail safety.

    “Railroaded” is a real eye opener as to the current state of the rail industry in Canada and the US.

  7. In light of the Federal Government Launching a Review of the Canada Transportation Act I went to the Canada Transportation Agency’s website to review how many residents complained about noise & how many of those complaints resulted in positive change for the residents. I used the search tool provided within the website to isolate noise complaints going back 4 to 5 years; I found 18. Only 27% resulted in a positive change for the residents and for one of these the rail company failed to comply with the CTA orders. 73% of these were dismissed.

    I reviewed a report commissioned by the CTA surveying complainants satisfaction with the CTA process. I myself was asked to respond to this survey & I found it to be very limited, none the less the report determined that the area requiring the most improvement was impartiality of the CTA.

  8. trainjane permalink

    Ed, I respect your viewpoint, but I personally do not think the problem is one of impartiality by the CTA. The real problem, in my opinion, is that the law they were given to work with was severely watered down by our lovely unelected Senate at the last minute when a railway lobby pushed to get a key clause removed from an otherwise well-worded Bill. That clause was vital and pertained to the railway having to consider the impact of their operations for people leaving adjacent the railway.

    Our Senate, again in my opinion, ignored the fact that the wording they struck out of the Bill was supported by all elected parties and an enormous disservice to Canadians was the net result.

    I have been a staunch believer in an accountable, elected Senate (or get rid of it!) ever since.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Opportunity to Address Railway Noise and Vibration in Canada | Railroaded's Blog
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