Status of Train Horns in Heritage Unionville Area

(as of Jun. 3, 2010)

Video of GO Train

Turn up the volume on your speakers!  Note the bells adding to the sonic landscape!


We believe the priorities are, in this order:

We understand Transport Canada's concern about safety, but as bloggers all over North America have written, you cannot disturb tens of thousands of people, and maybe permanently damage their hearing, because of the remote chance that someone will ignore the lights, bells and gate, wander onto the tracks and get hurt.  Conversely, of course, safety is important - but there are other ways of improving that aspect of rail transportation.

This document is a work in progress - and some of the points made will no longer be valid (or as pressing) as changes occur to the technologies used by the trains or train horns.  Readers should also be aware that we are getting information in bits and pieces from about four levels of government, so inconsistencies may well arise.  We will try to eliminate them as we spot them!

We have recently put up on our web site a summary of our understanding of the present situation - it can be found at  This document will of course be updated, as and when we receive new information from the Town and/or GO Transit.

Joint URA/UVA Train Horns Committee

List of Status Items:

"GO 2020"

The Strrategic Plan for GO Transit through 2020 is described in Strategic Plan.  For the Stouffville line, they are planning on train service for Mount Joy every 15 minutes during peak periods, with counter-peak service every 30 minutes. Selected trips will serve Lincolnville and Uxbridge as demand warrants.  Our concern is that, if something is not done to reduce the intensity levels of the train horns, our charming heritage area will become virtually unlivable.

However the same document also asserts:
GO Transit will be a leader in Canada, delivering successful services, championing public transit, cultivating productive partnerships with agencies and businesses, combating congestion, setting an example of environmentally sustainable operations, and enhancing the quality of life for all in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. [my italics]

Dan Francey of GO Transit assures me that they will only be adding one train in each direction before the end of 2010, and that there will have to be an Environmental Assessment (EA) before any major expansion of the service. However, other people have said that a new speeded-up process, called the Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP), will be used and that this will involve less public consultation.

However, reading the TPAP, I note that it says property owners within 30 metres of the location of the transit project must be consulted, plus "[a]ny other person, including regulatory agencies and other members of the public, that the proponent thinks may be interested in the transit project".  So it sounds as though some of us, at least, will get a say in how this develops.

Harry Eaglesham announced at a recent URA meeting (Nov. 2, 2009) that it his understanding that all-day GO service will not be running north of Unionville GO Station.

However, as of July 2017, Metrolinx is now running 9 trains northwards through Unionville, ON, on weekdays, at roughly 1/2 hour intervals, plus one at 11:15 pm, and 8 southwards... every day!

Whistle Cessation Process

The Whistle Cessation Process is progressing - slowly. John Bourrie tells me that the main hurdle is the Breckons' garage and some shrubs, which block the line of sight at one point. He and Al Brown had a meeting with the Breckons, who it seems were open to the idea of allowing changes to be made on their property.  John Bourrie has told me that the report on the No Whistle Zone, planned to come out shortly, will estimate the cost of these changes. 

Dec. 3, 2009 - John Bourrie tells me that moving the garage may not be deemed necessary - the report, to come out early next year, may just recommend extra signage instead.

The report will then go to Council to get approval of the work; if it is approved, the Breckons have indicated that they are OK with this.  Of course, the town may not approve the work, in which case, maybe Transport Canada will agree that the horns would only need to be sounded at the Eureka crossing, which might be an acceptable outcome.  Other mitigation techniques might also be considered, such as a berm, or even the use of Wayside Horns (see below).

An outstanding question is whether the No Whistle Zone includes the at-grade crossing on Unionville Main St.  Jeanne Ker-Hornell, who attended the meeting with the Breckons, was not able to get a clear answer to this.  John Bourrie, consultant for the town, informed me (Sept. 25) that "Main Street is part of the study area which extends from Steeles to just north of Major Mackenzie along the CN Uxbridge Subdivision line."   I have asked for clarification.

John Bourrie has now sent it (Sept. 29, 2009), as follows:

The anti-whistling is for the entire Uxbridge subdivision line.  The Town is trying to incorporate the anti-whistling from Steeles Avenue to north of Major Mackenzie, that is, if all the improvements are completed and accepted/approved by all parties (including Council) then there would be NO whistling through this section of Markham (i.e. no whistling from Steeles all the way up to north of Major Mackenzie).

Thanks, John!

Now it should be stressed that, when we raised concerns about the glacial pace of the No Horn Zone process, we did not realize that the trains were already in process of being converted to "two level horns" (see below). This process is well on its way, and has signficantly improved the quality of life for the nearby residents - although there are still a certain number of "surprises"!

Train Horn Levels

Digression on Decibels

Decibels are somewhat confusing to the layman (e.g. me), but are described in detail in the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology  (originally published by the World Soundscape Project, Simon Fraser University and ARC Publications) .  As a result of the way decibels are calculated, every increase of 3 decibels represents approximately a doubling of the sound intensity.  For the mathematically inclined, the formula is given in the Handbook.

So while the Handbook describes 100 dB as the noise level of a Diesel truck at 30 ft. (10m.), 106 dB will be four times that level (i.e. 100 dB doubled twice).   Thus the handbook described 107 dB as the noise level of a power mower at 3 feet (1 m.).  Going the other way, 94dB is the noise level inside a subway train (presumably in New York City).

The other thing to bear in mind is that the sound level increases by 4.5 dB when the distance is halved, but is reduced by intervening buildings.

The article called  Is train horn noise a problem in your town?  by J.W.P. Redden, which appeared in the American Public Works Association Reporter, Sept. 2005,  states that "audible communication usually ceases when background noise exceeds 90 dBA".  A bit further down it says: "Assuming an average of 104 dBA of horn noise at 100 feet from the train, ... [o]utside conversations, closer than 400 feet [122 m.] from the track, usually have to cease until the train passes by. "

Levels Preset

An important point that none of us knew (and several people in GO Transit don't know) is that the horns on trains built in the '90s and later have fixed volume (must be between 96 +/- 6 dB and 110 dB at 30 metres), so the engineer can only hit an on/off button.  On trains built before that time, the engineer had some control over the volume, using a technique called "feathering", but on more modern trains this is not possible.  Some more modern trains even have a single button for the whole 'long, long, short, long' pattern (sometimes called a "14L" pattern). 

By the way, This 14L pattern can be a problem on the Eureka/Station Lane stretch as a series of them actually seem to overlap in time. As part of the No Horn Zone process, CN will issue special instructions eliminating this pattern at that set of crossings.

The Garels' house on Station Lane is a bit under 20 metres from the track, so you have to add 2 or 3 dB to the cited numbers - taking the figure of 2, this gives a range of 98 -104 dB to 112 dB (remember the sound increases by 4.5 dB when the distance is halved).  Recent research suggests that 115 dB can damage hearing in half a minute - see Hearing impairment article in Wikipedia - whereas 100 dB is described in the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology as the sound level of a Diesel truck at 30 feet, which may be uncomfortable, but probably bearable.

Our early experience with the Two-Level Horns suggests that the "low" level is actually fairly comfortable for local residents. The "high" level is only to be used in emergency situations, and the drivers have been so instructed.

"Signalling Distance"

Section 14.(ii) of the CROR (Canada Rail Operating Rules) - - that GO Transit officials keep referring to - seems very clear in its intent, and one wonders why it is simply being ignored. Here is the wording: "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.."   This is a perfectly clear guideline.  The "distance the signal is to be conveyed" should probably be measured in hundreds of metres, while instead currently the (unconverted) horns are loud enough to be annoying at least 2 km away from the track.  It is hard to see why "the signal needs to be conveyed" to people 2 km away - and a circle with a radius of 2 km, centred on this portion of Unionville, must include thousands of people, if not tens of thousands.  If this section of the CROR cannot be complied with because the horn levels of some or all trains are preset, then the levels are (or were) clearly set too high.

Two-Level Horns

Terry Young at Transport Canada told me they were thinking about installing emergency horns on the trains.  To my (pleasant) surprise, Grant Bailie (Manager Railway Corridors, GO Transit) informed me on Sept. 9, 2009 that:

Our equipment group have advised me that all new vehicles (MP40s and cab cars) are already equipped with a "two-stage" horn that meets Transport Canada regulations for sound levels. Essentially the engineer selects one of the two output levels from a single two-position pushbutton on his console. Normally the lower of the two levels is used but the higher is available for emergencies. For existing equipment, cab cars are being retrofitted with this feature during refurbishment of which only 8 of 52 remain to be done. We are currently developing a similar application for the F59s (older locomotives, the MP40s being the new locomotives) although since our plan is to retire them all by 2011, it may not be necessary. Note that these regulations do not come into force for existing equipment until Jan. 1, 2012.

However, this gives rise to further questions:

Grant Bailie has now (Sept. 15) sent me the answers to these questions, culled from the Transport Canada Railway Locomotive Inspection and Safety Rules:

3.20 "high level mode" means a minimum sound level, intended for emergency use, of one hundred and ten (110) dB(A), at any location on an arc of 30 meters (100 feet) radius, and subtended forward of the locomotive by angles 45 degrees to the left and to the right of the centerline of the track in the direction of travel
3.25 "low level mode" means a sound level, intended for normal train operation, of ninety six (96) dB(A) +6, -0, at any location on an arc of 30 meters (100 feet) radius, and subtended forward of the locomotive by angles 45 degrees to the left and to the right of the centerline of the track in the direction of travel;
11.1.1 Passenger locomotives must be equipped or retrofitted with horns capable of producing a high and a low level sound, as per the following schedule:
- "locomotives in a controlling or lead position on trains in passenger service, traveling at speeds exceeding 105 km (65MPH), must be retrofitted before January 1st, 2012;"
2. For GO Transit equipment, where equipped (as previously advised) the high level mode will not exceed 111 dB(A) and the low level mode will be in the range of 96-100 dB(A)
3. There is a mix of new and old equipment throughout our operational network which can change on a daily basis depending on maintenance requirements and equipment availability. Where equipped train crew are required to use the low level mode for normal operation and the high level mode for emergency use only. As the morning trains operating toward Union Station always have the cab-car leading you will have a high chance that the 2-stage horn is available, as 44 of the 52 units have already been retrofitted.

This certainly sounds like a step in the right direction!  But I am still wondering why people's perception is that the trains are getting louder, not quieter.   Is it possible that most of the unconverted trains are on the Stouffville line, or that the engineers are still not used to the new setup, and are hitting the wrong buttons? 

I have just (Sept. 21) received an answer from Gary McNeil,  managing Director - GO Transit:

In the morning, the trains operating through Unionville are "cabcar leading". This means that the train is being pushed by the locomotive at the other end of the train. Under this mode of operation, the train engineer (and horn control) is in the coach leading the train down the tracks. ( In the evening, the train is pulled by the locomotive and the train engineer and horn control occurs from the leading locomotive). There are horns on both the locomotive and the cabcar, but only the horns on the leading piece of equipment are activated based upon where the control is located.
The horns on GO trains, whether on the cabcar or the locomotive, are in compliance with Transport Canada requirements. These are Two Stage Horns. The first normal activation is a lower volume level. However, if the engineer envisions danger or risk, the horn can be pressed harder into the second emergency activation, emitting a higher noise level.  The actual duration of the activation of the horn is governed by Transport Canada requirements. In the case of road crossings through Unionville, especially in the old Town area, the crossings are so close together that one sequence of horn blasts overlaps with the next sequence, so it can give the impression of continual horn blowing. (Transport Canada requirements apply to each individual crossing and do not necessarily recognize the proximity of adjacent road crossings).
I am certain that the crews operating the trains through Unionville are complying with Transport Canada requirements. However, I am passing your note of concern to our train service operator to ask that crews operate through Unionville using the minimum horn blowing requirements dictated by Transport Canada, unless there is a perception of an emergency situation. I am sympathetic to your concerns, but we have to comply with Transport Canada's requirements.  [Gary McNeil's bold type]

For completeness, I asked Gary when we could expect this guideline to the crews to be implemented, and he replied today (Sept. 24):

The message has already been communicated to the Rail Operator. They are now issuing Bulletin Reminders and reinforcing training. The results won't necessarily happen overnight but the message has been delivered.

Grant adds (Oct. 5): "This is a standing bulletin that has to be followed; train operators will be monitored for compliance.  Bombardier [who employ the engineers] have received this notice."

One update to the foregoing (Sept. 24) is that Gary did some more digging, and discovered that, as Grant Bailie had reported in an earlier note, that the retrofitting was not yet complete (I had assumed the discrepacy was due to the timing difference).  Here is his more recent note:

My initial information on the fleet-wide application of the 2 Stage horn was not as accurate as I had thought. Digging deeper, I discovered that  34 of GO's 52 cab-cars are currently equipped with the 2-stage horn. The Transport Canada regulation for the 2 Stage horn allows trains to be retrofit by 2012.  Therefore,  differences in horn levels will exist based on the equipment line-up which could vary on a daily basis.

I have directed the GO train maintenance staff to attempt, as best as possible, to allocate only cabcars with the 2 Stage horn in the Stouffville corridor due to the proximity of homes and frequency of road crossings through the Markham/Unionville area.
On behalf of GO, I apologize for this perception error.

Grant Bailie has just (My 21, 2010) informed me that the parts have arrived, and conversion is expected to be complete around the eend of August.

He also reinforces Gary's note, stating that, until conversion is complete: "
We will take steps to ensure, wherever possible, that cars with the 2-stage horn are assigned to the Stouffville corridor; however ... it will therefore not always be possible to have only equipped cars on that route."

Re the sentence on "monitoring for compliance" mentioned above,
we are asking GO Transit how this will be done.  There seems to be a role here for people living in the neighbourhood - maybe GO Transit  could send us some phone number or email address where they can send times and dates of offending trains?  Or possibly an interactive application could be made available for those who have Internet access, e.g. SurveyMonkey, which was successfully used recently for a survey by URA.  Of course there is no point in starting this until after all the trains have been retrofitted - Feb. or Mar. 2010 hopefully.

Thanks to
Gary McNeil, Grant Bailie and Dan Francey of GO Transit for their prompt and helpful answers!  And especially to Gary for his thoughtfulness in making sure that the information he gave us is absolutely accurate!

Other Possible Technologies

"Broad Band" Horn

Some people have commented that the current train horns spread out too much (not sure if this applies to the Two-Level Horns).   Other technologies are available, and might be worth investigating. A very interesting technology is the "Broad Band" horn, developed in England for the Noise Abatement Society there, and tried out in 2003, very successfully - it does not spread out as much as ours, and is much less disturbing to neighbours. Some US rail lines have apparently bolted plates onto the horns to get the same effect.

Changes to American Laws

The decibel figures quoted to me by Transport Canada match almost exactly those used by the US Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), suggesting that Canadian rules were based on theirs.  The 'long, long, short, long' signal is also standard across North America, as are the decibel figures quoted above.    However, the FRA has passed a new set of regulations (on June 24, 2005),  specifying a a number of Supplemental Safety Measures (SSMs) and allowing some interesting new technologies.  They are described in the article cited above - Is train horn noise a problem in your town?  by J.W.P. Redden - and include

As neighbours have reported drivers going round the gates, the town should investigate the possibility of installing "median barriers" as described in this article.

If I read them correctly, the new FRA regulations also allow "Wayside Horns" to be used as a one-for-one substitute for the train horn at individual or multiple at-grade crossings, including those within Quiet Zones. The "Automated Train Horn (Wayside Horn)" is a stationary horn located at a highway-rail grade crossing, designed to provide audible warning to oncoming motorists of the approach of a train. The crossing must be equipped with flashing lights and gates. The FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) has "granted Wayside Horns with interim approval as traffic control devices".

Wayside Horns are mounted on poles at the crossing and emit a louder, longer and more consistent audible alarm than the conventional train horn when the train is 1/4 mile from the crossing. The Wayside Horn sound is directed right toward motorists and pedestrians on the roadway... When the train activates the crossing signal system, the Wayside Horns are activated. The horn confirmation signal is activated if the speaker located in the horn detects the alarm sound at the required decibel level. As long as the locomotive engineer can see the horn confirmation signal, he will not be required to sound the train horn unless he detects some type of emergency... It is estimated the noise from ATHs impacts less than 10% of the area impacted by the noise from a conventional locomotive horn. [my italics]
In my humble opinion, this would be a much better solution to the problem of balancing public safety against damage to the residents' nerves and eardrums, and should be politically much more saleable in the short and middle term.

Grant Bailie suggests that we could take this forward to the Town, but stresses that it has not yet been approved by Transport Canada for use.  Note the word "yet"!

Another Interesting Technology

Lastly, Heather Navarra informs me that TransLink in British Columbia has recently implemented a technology called IRSS Advanced Rail Warning System to provide early detection of trains at at-grade crossings and warn motorists (i.e., to redirect them).  She says, "Perhaps this technology could somehow be used at level crossings to reduce or eliminate the need for horns", presumably communicating with the speaker in the train horn the same way that the Wayside Horn does - see page 3 of the ITS Canada Newsletter for Feb. 2009.  Thanks, Heather!

Sound-Absorbent Barrier

If measurement of the decibels in Patrick Garel's backyard indicates that they do not exceed the Transport Canada-specified limits for "normal" level horns, we may have to consider alternative techniques to reduce the wear and tear on the residents' nerves and eardrums. One possibility might be a sound-absorbent barrier, or "berm". One interesting approach, which would also fit in with the province's long-term plans for "green" energy,  would be to use the berm also as a base for electricity generation - one such design is described in Photovoltaic Noise Barrier.  Presumably this would fall totally within the Town's jurisdiction, especially since most of the land where this would need to be constructed is Town land.

Frequency Plans Unrealistic

Another implication of the GO 2020 plan is that, if the increase in the number of trains is implemented as planned (every 1/2 hour, and every 1/4 hour during peak hours, by 2020), the crossing gates will be coming down every 15 minutes at rush hour, on 3 at-grade crossings which are fairly close to each other (Main St., Hwy 7, and Eureka).  Grade separations are planned by the Region for the Kennedy bypass and McCowan Rd., but they are not planned for these 3 crossings - nor is there space for them, except maybe on Hwy. 7. 

Simple queueing theory suggests that basically no road traffic will be able to move during the rush hour period - or at best just a trickle. 

It is also not clear how you can push trains through this area every 15 minutes at rush hour without doubling the tracks, but they are only planned to be twinned south of Unionville GO station.

Effects of Increase in Number of Diesel Trains

Health concerns

The Star had an article in its Aug. 20 issue, quoting Toronto's medical officer of health as saying that increasing the number of trains on the Georgetown line will put the health of residents at risk - see .  This will of course also apply, though to a lesser degree, to the proposed expansion on the Stouffville line.  The health issues associated with Diesel trains have been a concern for a long time.  I have asked the Toronto Board of Health for information about the health risks of Diesel engines, how long the particulates stay airborne, etc.

They have just responded (Sept. 21), and I include here some of the relevant paragraphs:

It might ... help to compare the size of the planned Stouffville expansion with the Georgetown expansion, and to compare background Stouffville air quality with background air quality in Toronto. I'm not familiar with the size of the planned Stouffville expansion or your current air quality problems, but I suspect that neither is as large as in Toronto. Given these factors, the health effects of the Stouffville expansion, if any, may be smaller than were predicted for Georgetown.

Numerous recent studies have shown that those who live near busy major highways, railyards and ports are at significantly greater risk of adverse health impacts than the general population. The health impacts observed include increased prevalence and severity of asthma and other respiratory diseases, diminished lung function, adverse birth outcomes, childhood cancer, and increased mortality. Traffic density and distance from the corridor are important determinants of the extent and severity of health effects experienced by individuals living near transportation corridors. Some studies suggest that the health impacts listed above are only experienced within 200 m of roadways with traffic densities of at least several thousand vehicles per day (i.e., health impacts are not experienced at greater distances or near less busy roadways).

For more information on emissions factors, health impacts and potential mitigation strategies, please see Toronto Public Health's staff report, Air Quality Impact Assessment – Metrolinx Georgetown South Service Expansion and Union-Pearson Rail Link ( You can also refer to Metrolinx' assessment for their Georgetown expansion (

So this seems to be generally good news, but there is food for thought here.  Plus,  Gary McNeil has sent me a very interesting note (also Sept. 21)  which discusses among other things the decision to concentrate on trains rather than buses (see below).  Thanks, Gary!  He also points out that the buses use Diesel engines.

Diesel Engines: Both GO motorcoach buses and GO trains use diesel engines. (GO uses motorcoach buses, as we chose to maintain a higher quality of seating comfort and we need higher speed than local transit buses as we operate on 400 series highways to be competitive with the automobile). A diesel bus can carry around 50 people, which removes about 40 cars off the road. A GO train can carry around 1500 people, which removes 30 buses, or 1200 cars off the road. GO trains (and buses) use ultra low sulphur fuel and we are 50% of the way through the replacement of our entire locomotive fleet with the latest diesel engine technology.

[my italics]

I was surprised this morning (Oct. 6) to hear someone on CBC news, referring to yesterday's decision to go ahead with Diesels to Pearson Airport, say that no trains currently use low sulphur fuel.  I asked GO Transit where he got this information, and if they might want to get this perception corrected, as it will definitely have a significant public relations effect. 

Gary McNeil has just answered (Oct. 16): 

All of our trains use low ultra low sulphur diesel! CN freight trains and maybe VIA use regular diesel? But we use the cleanest. In 2 years all of our locomotives will be replaced with the latest diesel technology. As soon as Tier 4 technology arrives in 2015, we will be aggressively retrofitting our loco fleet with Tier 4 kits (which are not yet available in the industry). Tier 4 removes most of NOx.


In connection with a concern voiced by one of our residents that the Stouffville line is not slated for electrification (see letter #3 below), Gary states:

With respect to electrification, GO is studying full electrification of its GO system. You can see the study terms of reference on the Metrolinx website at . The Stouffville corridor is not precluded from this study. There may be a perecption that electrification is not being considered, as the Metrolinx Big Move plan does not recommend Express Rail in this corridor. The definition of Express Rail , in the Big Move, refers to shorter, higher speed trains, which typically involves electric trains, operating at headways as low as 5 minutes. This level of service and operating plan is not envisioned for the Stouffville corridor between now and 2031. However, as Metrolinx/GO studies electrification, it is assessing electrifying our current services, not just future Express Rail services.

A reasonably balanced article appeared in the Toronto Star - Oct. 12, 2009 - (in spite of its headline) - Is diesel train for dinosaurs?. I'd like to see more coments on this.

A group calling themselves the Clean Train Coalition has recently been formed, primarily to fight against the proposed expansion of Diesel trains on the Georgetown line - there are a number of useful links on this site.

Long term, why not build monorails down the middle of existing highways, such as 407 or 404?   Think big!

Vibration problems

When we moved into Station Lane in 1998, the shower door used to vibrate (it has since been replaced with a different design) - that means the vibration is being transmitted through the soil under the road. It could perhaps be argued that we should not have built our houses so close to the line, but what about all the century homes in the area? 

Comparison of impact on environment of Diesels vs. buses

Currently there is a very good bus service to and from downtown providing service outside of rush hour.  The buses use the HOV lanes of the 404, and take the same time as the train does - and much more quietly!   Also it does not seem as if there would be a high demand for the kind of capacities that trains can carry in, say, the middle of the day.

However, in the Sept. 21 letter from Gary McNeil referred to above, he states:

Overall Costs: At certain passenger volumes, it makes better economic sense to operate GO buses instead of GO trains to/from downtown Toronto. (Different corridors have different costs, being both a function of distance travelled and track access fees charged by the Railways.) In the case of the Stouffville line, GO owns the rail corridor down to the Scarborough GO station so we are not charged a "lease rate" to operate on those tracks. From Scarborough into Union, GO pays access fees to CN (similar to GO buses paying toll charges on Hwy. 407). However, another factor in the economic analysis is the inherent "attractiveness" of rail service for new customers. A perfect example is Barrie, where a very robust bus service was available for the population for many years, but no train service existed. After we intoduced rush hour train service to Barrie in December of 2007, ridership climbed to the point where, one year later, we had attracted over 400 new customers a day (800 new trips per day) to the GO rail and bus service. However, the pure economic sense of selective bus trips is starting to be eroded by traffic congestion. As growth and road congestion continues in the GTA, the speed of the buses into downtown Toronto will only be reduced. A GO train can operate on semi-dedicated track (VIA trains and some freight trains use the tracks also into Union Station), while buses must operate in mixed traffic. GO hopes to gradually increase its GO services to match passenger demand; this service will be a combination of GO trains and express buses serving the population and employment growth in this corridor.

Land Values: A real estate appraiser will likely state that the value of property in Unionville already takes into consideration a rail corridor, which has been their [sic] for many years. Land values can also be increased by the value of close transportation services (such as GO, VIVA and Hwy. 407, in the particular case of the Town of Markham).
Swings and roundabouts!

Canadian Transportation Agency

CTA (Canadian Transportation Agency) is a separate organization from Transport Canada, and its main job is to resolve noise complaints.  Its boss is Geoff Hare.  This may be a channel we will have to use.  Interestingly, when we contacted our MP, John McCallum, for assistance with this issue, he (or his staff) sent us a PDF containing the CTA's Conflict Resolution Guidelines.  I was pleased to see that he (or his staff) seemed to be on top of what's going on with regard to this issue.

Chinese Signage

I suggest putting big notices on the tracks in Chinese (and any other languages that seem relevant) saying that it is dangerous  to walk on the train tracks.  For some reason, Chinese couples getting married like to have their photos taken on the train tracks.  Patrick Garel (who lives right next to the tracks) has had to warn couples (and the photographers) about the trains on at least one occasion. There are fairly noticeable signs in English at the at-grade crossings, but I feel a sign in Chinese might be more effective.

Whose reponsibility would it be to put up such signs: Town, Region, or CN?

"Quality of Life" Issues

Increasing the number of trains, especially during the day, without solving the train horn problem could destroy the area's attractiveness as York Region's second most popular tourist attraction (after Canada's Wonderland).

We have a seniors' residence in the area - surely our senior citizens deserve some peace and quiet in their declining years!

Some residents have raised the question of the horns' effect on the hearing of children - children living near the tracks could be at risk of early deafness.  This could be a serious concern.

Who will look after our "quality of life"? I don't see any of the levels of government really stepping up to that issue.

Richard Talbot has to include in all Offers of Purchase and Sale a statement acknowledging that he understands that future CN noise levels "may continue to be of concern", but that the house is air-conditioned "which will allow windows and exterior doors to remain closed"!   We are not aware of anyone else on the street having had to agree to this. 

I have just been contacted by one Patty Maurice, a feisty 83-year old at the Cedarcrest Manor Seniors' Residence on Water St., Markham, who is going to be starting her own petition.  She says they have a lot of seniors there who are not well, and the horns are just adding to their stress levels. One senior she spoke to says "the sound just bounces off the walls".   She has now (Sept. 24) collected 47 names, which she will be sending to GO Transit.

Public Relations

Keely Grasser has written a good article for the Economist & Sun - Sept. 12, 2009 - and we have to build on this good start.

Patty Maurice has contacted Keely to let her know about her petition (see above).  She has now sent her petition off to Gary McNeil, and MP Paul Calandra has expressed an interest in meeting with her.

More recently, I have talked to Tiffany Hsieh at the Economist and Sun, and she has indicated that she is planning an update article.

Adam Poon, who has just been announced as the Green candidate for Markham/Uxbridge, volunteered his expertise as a safety engineer.  He stressed that the technology exists to fix these problems -  it is just a matter of the political will and money.

Arnold Chan, assistant to MPP Michael Chan, has kindly offered to organize a meeting between GO Transit and other interested parties, but I feel this should wait until the decibel measurements have been done - and that it should involve the Town, and maybe even Transport Canada as well.

I was surprised this morning (Oct. 6) to hear a reporter on CBC news, referring to yesterday's decision to go ahead with Diesels to Pearson Airport, say that no trains currently use low sulphur fuel, contradicting Gary's note cited above.  This needs to be clarified, as it definitely has a public relations impact. 

In my opinion, Gary McNeil and Grant Bailie have done a great job of public relations through the emails they have recently sent me!

Related Web Sites

Selected Comments from Residents


Of course the horns bother me as I am sure they bother everyone who lives in Unionville. My property backs on to the track and I find that the noise level from the horn can be physically painful (depending on the train operator) if a person has the misfortune of being outdoors when the train goes by. During the summer it is a particular inconvenience as we like to sleep with the windows open whenever possible. This means waking up at 5:45am, however, as that is when the first train goes by and it is fairly impossible to sleep after that. I see no reason why the train needs to sound the horn so loudly at that time of day. In fact, there is probably no good reason for the horns at any time since the section of track near me is not easily accessible to pedestrians and the Main street crossing has gates and signage warning against trespass. I find the trains themselves are loud enough without the horns and I am very concerned about what will happen to the quality of life in Unionville if the frequency of trains is increased or the hours of operation are extended.


Relatives refused to believe the impact the whistle had on our daily living until we had them on the phone, live, when one passed. Then we had believers!  Letters, emails, and attempts to contact anyone who could give a straight answer regarding the rules or regulations for the train whistle were not to be found...It seems one person would say one thing and another person had completely different information. We gave up trying to solve the mystery of the whistle and the GoTrains. What a shame..Such a gorgeous home and neighborhood...... Keep fighting the good fight!!!


You may have noticed that the group in Weston fighting the Union to Pearson Airport line is concerned by the amount of diesel fumes that will be generated. Diesel engines are also much noisier than electric engines. Similar fights have taken place in other jurisdictions in the US. And diesel trains are almost non-existent in Europe, particularly on passenger lines. At their meeting with the UVA last spring the GO reps indicated that there are plans to electrify every GO line except the Stouffville line.   [IMO Gary McNeil's letter above answers this.]

I think that we should be as concerned as the people in Weston.
I had attempted to have the whistle posts remove over ten years ago by supplying the necessary documents and procedures outlined by transport Canada to my councilor (Mr. Jones) at that time to no avail. I was not even contacted in return even though I had done the ground work. The current situation is reminiscent of Prairie towns in Saskatchewan when I have spend many a summer and I am appalled that it has allowed to continue this long in a highly developed area such as Markham/Unionville. The railways can run their lines elsewhere if they cannot modify their crossing to conform with transport Canada requirement. Some of the regulations may be out of date given technology etc. However, if anyway enters the railway right of way they do so at their own risk.
I see many cars with Stereo Woofers blasting where my vehicle, cars removed, is vibrating from the bass. I doubt any whistle/horn would alert those to an upcoming train. With cell phones and Ipods, loud car stereos, there are many distractions for pedestrians and drivers from hearing these and taking notice or responding to them. Visual alerts may make better sense. Noise pollution is much higher now than decades ago.

List of Concerned Residents

The following people are all concerned about the increasing horn volumes, and increasing number of trains - and are willing to add their names to any petitions that we produce, and in many cases to contribute time and effort into getting necessary changes made.

Anyone reading this web page who wants their name added to the list should contact us at


The following email addresses have been modified to make them less digestible for Web crawlers.
Adam Poon
adampoon at
Andrew Mason
andrew at
Brian Roman
brianroman at
Bruce Tilden
brucetilden at
Christl Reeh
reehc at
Donna and Peter Miasek
dmiasek at
Harry  Eaglesham
hjeagle at
Heather Navarra
ferrari_on_ice at
Jack and Jean Wrycraft

Janice Leonard

Jeanne Ker-Hornell
jkerh at
Jonathan and Kimberly Marcus
marcusglobal at
Klaus and Marjorie Rossler
klausrossler at
Margo Cross

Mona Babin
mtmbabin at
Neil Banerjee
nbanerjee at
Patrick and Janice Garel
pgarel at
Patty Maurice (Cedarcrest)

Peter Wales
peterwales at
Philip Blachier
philip at
Reid McAlpine
reid.mcalpine at
Richard Talbot talbot at
Ron Waslenko
rwaslenko at
Suzanne Swanson