How many Canadian National freight trains thunder past in the middle of a typical night since Prince Rupert’s Fairview terminal shortened the distance to Asian markets? Whatever the count, I have become so accustomed to their frequent nighttime rumbles and piercing whistles lately they often fail to wake me.
Yet living as I do on the highway end of Dobbie Street, all that buffers me from the railline is Highway 16, the frontage road, a width of trees, and the breadth of the Skeena. Many times I have wakened in the middle of the night not knowing what woke me… until some minutes later. Trains from the east approach as an indistinct audio manifestation beginning when they come around the final mountain curve. Gradually their recognizable sound magnifies until 14 minutes later they pass by with maximum disturbance. When trains approach from Terrace, however, I usually hear both the trains and the Queensway crossing signal of two long whistles, one short, then one long, if at all, mere seconds before they roar past.
Terrace isn’t the only city whose sleep is disrupted by multiple trains. Saskatoon, too, is battling to stop CPR train whistles. Saskatoon’s problem involves a low traffic crossing with no warning system situated on private greenhouse land where trains cross six times a day.
CPR told Saskatoon they would only consider stopping whistles if the greenhouse crossing is upgraded to include an active warning system. Such a system might cost Saskatoon $300,000.
Swift Current as a CPR hub puts up with frequent 100-car trains transporting potash, grain and other products that can block for half an hour either or both of the city’s two crossings blocking access by transport trucks, tourists, citizens and emergency vehicles to the other side of town, similar to Terrace’s two bottlenecks. Also, residents living within a block or two of the rail yard endure whistles and nighttime shunting clashes characterized by some angry taxpayers as deliberate when some engineers couple cars in the wee hours. It’s as if the engineers are bent on creating repair work. Still a rare engineer gauges the gap and couples cars quietly.
The Prince George Citizen reports “since the federal Railway Safety Act was changed in 1996, more communities have gone whistle-free. Brockville, Ontario made the switch in 1999. That same year, Banff flirted with a proposal but decided against it. Langley, B.C. put a lid on train whistles in 2005.” Googling Brockville’s experience, it appears the city waited several years for the whistles to actually stop.
The Transport Canada Railway Safety Directorate says a municipality must apply to railway companies directly to ban the whistle and notify the public. A ban may be subject to a number of safety conditions, including the addition of crossing warning systems such as flashing lights, bell or gates. A safety assessment is conducted to ensure the crossing is safe enough to stop whistles.
Based on CNR’s sluggish response to council’s requests for a pedestrian overpass at Kalum and a traffic friendlier crossing at the west end of town, I wouldn’t wait for the CNR to cease its whistles and reduce its noisy shunting if my sleep was being disturbed and the success of my B&B put at risk. A restful sleep is essential to good health.
I would take immediate steps to mitigate the problem: Replace window coverings with sound-proofing drapes. Install sound-proofing windows over existing windows and replace existing wallboard with soundproofing panels. Both windows and wallboard are readily available at building supply stores.
While these modifications are being carried out, wear ear plugs to bed and play white noise recordings. Train whistles are romantic only to balladeers.