Ask Pat: Whistle cessation update.

I’ve been a little behind on my “Ask Pat” responses. There are a few questions on different aspects of the Whistle Cessation theme, so I’ll cover them all with my answer to this one:

J.S. asked—

RE: new westminster train whistle cessation

I do not understand this project. There is a law saying train has to sound its horn at every crossing. Is there a law require it to be so loud that the entire town can hear it? Instead of throwing money on all these cessation projects which seem to be going nowhere, can’t train horn simply be modified so it is less aloud like a car horn or even a bell? Canadian train travels slower than a car. And I believe the law meant for it to be heard at that intersection only.

Yes, that would make total sense, but the answer to your first question is a completely absurd “yes”.

Train horns are designed to call attention to a train approaching a lonely rural road on the Canadian Shield at 80km/h, and therefore blow at something exceeding 100db for a regulatory more-than-20-seconds-for-every-crossing. That might make sense on a snowy rural crossing 100 miles east of Thunder Bay, but in the middle of a busy urban area the volume of the horns is clearly absurd. Especially then the crossing already has gates, bells, flashing lights, and the train is rolling along at 20km/h with a gigantic diesel engine chugging away at the front of it.

But the Railway Safety Act has a tendency to err on the side of caution, probably for good historic reasons. So we are stuck with this absurdity.

I would normally say “call your MP”, except that I know your MP has been working on rail interface issues for years, and has been stonewalled by successive governments and the simple intractability of trying to get the rail industry to behave as a good neighbour in urban areas. There is a bunch of long history here, related to the railways that built the Nation thinking and such, which was at one time, when railways were part of the National Enterprise, compelling, but now seem so much hollower now that the rail companies are just another multinational corporation charged with the holy duty of returning shareholder value… but I digress.

The City is, as you may have heard, working on bringing “Whistle Cessation” to our level crossings. This requires a significant amount of safety engineering, most of it patently absurd, to provide redundant safety measures enough that the Act and the railway operators are satisfied that absent-minded pedestrians and drivers won’t physically be able to wander into the path of a train. The City needs to pay for these works, and the rail companies that own the crossings both have to approve them, then decide (after the work is done, natch) if it now constitutes adequate protection to no longer require every person in a 5km radius to be alerted of the trains’ presence.

The works in New West have been painfully slow. There were a few engineering challenges, including the need to order some special equipment that could only be provided by a supplier approved by a railway. The multiple steps of design, pre-approval, engineering drawings, waiting for clearance, approvals to work in the right of way, waiting for the rail company to do the bits only they are authorized to do, getting authorization to do the bits we are authorized to do… it was painful.

However, I am happy to announce that the City has officially notified all of the stakeholders who need to be informed* that the City will officially request that Whistle Cessation be brought into effect for the two Front Street crossings through a resolution at Council scheduled for February 6th, 2017.

There are also three level crossings in Sapperton, and I have no idea when whistle cessation will be brought to those. The engineering requirements as far as sight lines and approach angles for cars under the Skytrain pillars are such that it appears simply impossible to meet any existing regular whistle-free standard. We will try, and new road infrastructure along that corridor will be viewed through a lens of whistle cessation, but barring radical ideas, I’m not making any promises about when that will actually occur.

*The list of Stakeholders who were officially served letters informing them of the City’ intentions for the February 7th meeting included the four rail companies that regularly operate on that line, plus PLM Railcar Management Services (Canada) Ltd.; PROCOR Ltd.; General Electric Railcar Services Corporation; the Canadian Fertilizer Institute; the Canadian Chemical Producers Association; the United Transportation Union; the Transportation Communications International Union Systems Board; UNIFOR; Teamsters Canada Rail Conference; Travailleurs Unis Transport (1843); the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union; GATX Rail Canada; Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 279; International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and the Propane Gas Association of Canada Inc. Dear God I hope we haven’t missed anyone. It’s absurd.

5 comments on “Ask Pat: Whistle cessation update.

  1. For anyone else trying to find the actual whistling rules, I think they are in section 14 on this page:
    http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/railsafety/rules-tco167-163.htm
    Sounds like you only need to provide warning 20 seconds in advance of entering the crossing (if travelling 44 mph or less, I guess the fact that they use miles may indicate the modernity of these regulations), so not necessarily for 20 s continuously. However, the “Whistle signal must be prolonged or repeated until the crossing is fully occupied.”

  2. “(ii) Engine whistle signals must be sounded as prescribed by this rule, and should be distinct, with intensity and duration proportionate to the distance the signal is to be conveyed. Unnecessary use of the whistle is prohibited.” Seems to be too vague, almost on top of a crossing at night the intensity and duration should be lower, shorter and less frequent, I suggest specific dB levels and measured distances, also enforce rule regarding frequency, sitting at a crossing and blowing the horn every few minutes is excessive.

  3. Fantastic article! Bravo!! I’m all for the bell idea. It’s not as obnoxious as a loud horn (obviously), and would add some nice tonal textures to the neighbourhood. Something that might harken back to the early days of rail travel in town.

  4. Part of the problem is the ludicrous placement of horns on freight locomotives – in the middle of the roof. So rather than being directed at the level crossing, the noise reflects off the roof into the surrounding area. Definitely something to raise with Transport Canada as well.

  5. So many little things could be done to lessen the constant noise of train horns , especially during the night . I’ll be willing to sign petitions.

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