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 http://www.jpaulmorrison.com/misc/URANoHornZoneINFORMATIONSHEET.pdf.
document will of course be updated, as and when we receive new
information from the Town and/or GO Transit.
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
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.
Process is progressing - slowly. John Bourrie
tells me that the main hurdle is the Breckons' garage and some shrubs,
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
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"!
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.
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
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.
Section 14.(ii) of the CROR (Canada Rail Operating Rules) - http://www.tc.gc.ca/railsafety/cror_tco093.pdf - 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.
Terry Young at Transport Canada told me they were thinking about
installing emergency horns on the trains. To my (pleasant)
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:
Some people have commented that the current train horns spread
much (not sure if this applies to the Two-Level Horns).
are available, and might be worth investigating. A very
interesting technology is the "Broad
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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
planned by the Region for the Kennedy bypass and McCowan Rd., but they
for these 3 crossings - nor is there space for them, except maybe on
theory suggests that basically no road traffic will be
able to move during the rush hour period - or at best just a
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.metrolinx.com/electrification .
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
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
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!
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
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?
However, in the Sept. 21 letter from Gary McNeil referred to above,
I suggest putting big notices
on the tracks in Chinese (and any other languages that seem relevant)
saying that it is dangerous
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)
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?
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
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.
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
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
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
through the emails they have recently sent me!
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.]#4
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.
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.
||adampoon at rogers.com
||andrew at masonsmasonry.com
||brianroman at rogers.com
||brucetilden at trebnet.com
||reehc at sympatico.ca
|Donna and Peter Miasek
||dmiasek at rogers.com
||hjeagle at aol.com
||ferrari_on_ice at msn.com|
|Jack and Jean Wrycraft
||jkerh at rogers.com
|Jonathan and Kimberly Marcus
||marcusglobal at earthlink.net
|Klaus and Marjorie Rossler
||klausrossler at rogers.com
||mtmbabin at rogers.com
||nbanerjee at banerjee.com
|Patrick and Janice Garel
||pgarel at rogers.com
|Patty Maurice (Cedarcrest)
||peterwales at rogers.com
||philip at blachier.ca
||reid.mcalpine at pearsoned.com
|Richard Talbot||talbot at talbotconsultants.com
||rwaslenko at yahoo.ca