Railway noise and vibration problems are broken into two distinct areas, with the issue of whistling generally separated out from other railway noise problems.
Whistling at crossings is a safety provision, and falls under the jurisdiction of Transport Canada. Trains are required to sound their whistles at pubic crossings unless a whistle cessation agreement is in place.
Other rail noise and vibration problems can include shunting noises from rail yard operations, idling locomotives, and noise from passing trains. The Canadian Transportation Agency has regulatory jurisdiction over complaints in these areas.
Train whistles, particularly when used at night, are increasingly being criticized as a serious problem, causing sleep disruption for many people living along rail corridors.
The pattern of two long blasts, one short, followed by another long harkens back to the days of morse code, in which it designated the letter “Q”. It dates back to another era when the Queen of England would come on board ships in the harbour. The ships would blast their horns with the morse code for “Q” to let other ships know the Queen was on board, and to yield right of way.
Trains then adopted this signal pattern, and what once was the announcement of royalty is now simply the herald of sleep disruption and misery for many, and a flash point for where a safety device crosses over into a public health hazard. The use of 90 decibel train whistles to protect crossings can simply become a late-night auditory assault on the local community. It is further ineffective and outmoded that only a fraction of those hearing the whistle are actually those attempting to use the crossing. The majority haven’t been warned – they’ve been woken.
Whistle cessation is a must for late-night rail operations, especially in urban areas, with alternate measures being set into place to provide necessary safeguards to provide protection at crossings – for vehicular and rail traffic, and for residents living nearby. Whistle cessation is possible to achieve, but very complex, and involves the City or Municipality, the rail company, and Transport Canada, coming to an agreement, and meeting certain provisions.
The following relevant publications are available from Transport Canada and will be helpful in addressing whistling complaints:
Rail Noise and Vibration Complaints (Other than Whistling):
In June 2007, the Canadian federal government formally approved Amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, returning regulatory jurisdiction to The Canadian Transportation Agency, to oversee complaints concerning unreasonable levels of noise and vibration emanating from rail operations. The Amendments favour that a collaborative approach be taken in the resolution of rail noise and vibration disputes. In the absence of an agreement being reached, with all collaborative measures being tried and exhausted, The Agency can then formally investigate the matter and make a binding ruling.
Information can be found in the following publication from the Canada Transportation Agency: Rail Noise and Vibration Complaints.
Briefly, here are the steps to be taken if you or your community are being negatively impacted by unreasonable levels of rail noise and vibration:
(1) Let your local municipal government about the nature of the problem being experienced. The dispute resolution process encourages their participation. It’s important that local government is made aware, if not already, of the legislative changes that have been made that provide clear opportunity for their involvement. A serious problem in the area’s own “backyard” is no longer completely “out of their hands”.
Contact the railway and let them of your concerns. Be specific as to the nature of the noise and vibration problem being experienced. The involvement of local authorities in this step can be helpful in trying to resolve problems faced by rail operations by its residents, in exploring possible solutions and options.
(2) If resolution of the problem cannot be reached, check to see if the railway in question is under the Agency’s jurisdiction:
(3) If the railway in question appears on this list, the next step is to ask The Canadian Transportation Agency to mediate your rail and noise dispute. This will involve a mediator from The Agency, representative(s) from the rail company, representatives from the community, including citizens or their representatives, as well municipal officials. The following publication in the Mediation section of the website details this process: Mediating Your Transportation Dispute.
(4) If resolution still has not been reached, after exhausting all collaborative measures, a formal complaint can then be filed with the Canadian Transportation Agency, requesting an investigation of the complaint. The Agency will determine if the complaint meets the required criteria, (unreasonable rail noise and vibration) and can adjudicate the matter accordingly. The following publication details this process: Guidelines for the Resolution of Complaints over Railway Noise and Vibration.
Upon receipt of a completed formal complaint, The Agency has the authority to render a binding Decision on the matter generally within a 120 day period.
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