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Rail and Reason…a blog for people affected by railway noise pollution, and concerned about the impact that rail operations have on the environment, and on human health.

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance” sang Paul Simon in his memorable 1981 hit single. Almost 30 years later, the song remains a favourite for us, but the sound it describes, does not.  Often, the sound of an approaching train in the distance is quite literally a wake-up call to yet another night of compromised sleep, followed by a day of weariness and exhaustion for the people living in proximity to rail operations.  For many people, that once-nostalgic sound has simply been amplified over the course of many years to the point whereby it has become is a very serious source of noise pollution, and unreasonable living conditions.  Quality of life then deteriorates in a relentless cycle of the inability to get adequate rest, followed by a day of trying to function despite suffering sleep deprivation, followed by interrupted sleep…

It hasn’t helped that, in numerous communities, rail operations can be at their peak level during the middle of the night, as is particularly the case with one railway in particular here in Canada, CN Rail. This has resulted in a disconnect and an imbalance between the railway and the basic needs of residents affected by what can be described as sources of often high-decibel noise pollution.  It’s time to consider the impact this is having on human health.

Train whistles (which, in themselves, can exceed 90 decibels), shunting noises, and the drone of idling locomotives are not just annoying. Noise pollution is increasingly falling under scrutiny by medical and scientific fields of research and its negative impacts on human health being identified and understood.  We’re here to discuss this problem, and to post examples of various types of railway noise, particularly those that occur late at night, as well as addressing the impact that railway operations can have on the environment.


We believe that transportation policies can no longer be formed in the absence of consideration of the impact that they will potentially have on human health.

We are concerned citizens who strongly support responsible, safe, and sustainable rail industry practices that take into account, the legislated obligation that railways have to keep noise and vibration to reasonable levels when operating in residential neighbourhoods, but also consider the impact that rail industry practices can have on human health.

We recognize the vital role that railways play in our economy.  Rail transportation has flourished over recent years, but its growth and success has, at times, come at a considerable, and we believe, unacceptable cost to people and communities in terms of negatively affected quality of life, and health.  Our experience with this deterioration in our quality of life revolve around CN Rail and we question how CN, which refers to itself as a “world class railroad” could find it acceptable to subject its resident stakeholders to conditions that would be otherwise only found in third world countries.

Since successfully overturning previous legislation – and accountability – over its noise pollution and vibrational disturbances in 2000, CN Rail subjected numerous communities to escalating levels of noise pollution, often in the middle of the night. Concerns brought forward regarding its operations were often met with indifference by the railway.  In the absence of meaningful cooperation, affected residents turned to Parliament in Ottawa for relief from intolerable living conditions, resulting in re-regulation in June 2007, under which railways were obligated to keep noise and vibration to “reasonable levels”, and to take into account, “the area in which they operate”.  This forms the basis for the name of our blog, “Rail and Reason”.


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  – Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Although we are very pleased that our elected officials rose to the call of their constituents, we believe that the potential health impacts that rail operations can have on human health also require regulation, with noise limits and restrictions being set into place to protect those living adjacent railways. 

We also believe that railways can do far more here in Canada to reduce their impact on the environment. We believe that greater reductions in diesel emissions and further fuel consumption economies, beyond what is currently being realized, are viable, worthy, and readily attainable.

With only little more than half of CN Rail’s switcher fleet of  locomotives across Canada currently utilizing locomotive idle reduction technology, CN Rail has much it can still do to reduce its carbon footprint and significantly reduce its emissions.  It is simply not a sustainable practice to leave diesel locomotives idling for hours – or even days – on end, subjecting both the environment and human health to people to both air and noise pollution combined.

“The greatest danger to our future is apathy” – Jane Goodall 

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