Train horns – Wilmot Creek

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TO MAYOR ADRIAN FOSTER AND MEMBERS OF THE CLARINGTON MUNICIPAL COUNCIL,

Several months ago, Council voted to take steps necessary to cause Canadian National/VIA Rail to cease blowing train horns as their trains pass through the community of Wilmot Creek (two level crossings – Bennett Road and Cobbledick Road). Although the community did not exist at the time, the first train passed along this right-of-way from Toronto to Montreal in late October, 1856.

With six level (at grade) crossings of both major railways (CP and CN) as they pass through Newcastle, we were particularly alarmed by Council’s action to support cessation of the use of train horns at these two crossings in the Wilmot Creek community and, by possible extension, all other twenty-four level crossings in Clarington, including Newcastle. And, here’s why:

Cost

According to a study carried out on behalf of the Wilmot Creek Homeowners Association and local developers (presumably those companies planning to build Phase II of the Wilmot Creek community), the cost of preparing the two level crossings for the cessation of the use of train horns in the Wilmot Creek community is estimated at $430,000. This study and the dollar number were reported in an article appearing in Clarington This Week on March 15, 2018. Using the study number, the estimated cost of preparing all twenty-six level crossings in Clarington for the cessation of train horns would be just short of $6 million!

It could be argued that the cessation might be limited to the two level crossings in the Wilmot Creek community only. Its fair to say, though, other Clarington residents – who may share the same point of view of some of the residents of Wilmot Creek  – would feel denied if level crossings in their neighbourhood were not treated the same as the two in the Wilmot Creek Community.

All in all, the potential total cost, including insurance (if available), would impose a substantial burden upon the taxpayers of Clarington.

Liability

We have been told liability insurance might be available to provide coverage in the event of a train/vehicle/person accident. While we do not know the cost of such insurance premiums, it’s hard to imagine a small cost what with the insurers’ exposure if a catastrophic incident was to occur at a level crossing, especially the potential lifetime costs of providing for persons with major injuries. Again, a potentially substantial cost to Clarington taxpayers when it might be argued the responsibility for all costs should properly fall to the associations or groups seeking cessation of the use of train horns in their neighbourhoods.

Safety

You have heard them throughout south Clarington: the two long, one short and one long sound of a train horn as a train approaches a level crossing. Speeds vary, but VIA Rail trains travel at up to 150 kilometres per hour (90+ miles per hour) while freight trains typically travel at speeds of about 90km/h (50+ mph). At these speeds, trains will reach the level crossings in moments. And, where an obstruction of a level crossing is observed, it’s impossible to bring trains to a halt before the crossing, especially freight trains hauling 12,000 – 15,000 tons of cargo. Even with drop gates (where they exist) and red warning lights providing notice of an approaching train, an audible train horn could mean the difference between the safe passage of a train over a crossing and a catastrophe.

As well, all of us have from time to time have observed teenagers at crossings and along the right-of-way, walking along with apparent disregard for anything but what’s playing on their earbuds! We know they should be more careful at crossings and along the rail line where they know they are not supposed to be, but there they are – and it may be the piercing sound of a train horn could be the only thing between our kids and disaster.

Of interest is a Federal Railroad Association (U.S.) study in 1995 which found that, in the State of Florida, accidents at level crossings increased by an alarming 87% when the use of train horns was discontinued. This number was thought to be representative of elsewhere in the U.S. The study led the Federal Government to reserve unto itself final approval of any train horn cessation applications; such approval being formerly under the aegis of the State (1).

Safety trumps all!

Lastly

There are about 45 train movements per day (total, eastbound and westbound) along the double track CN corridor in south Newcastle and about 8 train movements per day along the CP corridor in north Newcastle. These are significant totals representing, we believe, a potential elevated risk if any of the current warning devices signalling approaching trains are discontinued, especially train horns (2).

From comments received by a number of our members, we have found the proposition of cessation of the use of train horns is NOT a universally held one.  As well, there was a reported statement from a Wilmot Creek Homeowners Association spokesperson says, “…that there are severe health impacts for our residents…caused by train whistles.” The article in which this statement appeared did not contain any reference to medical evidence/science to support what could be a contention causing alarm amongst some residents.

The Newcastle/Bond Head Ratepayers Association is opposed to the cessation of the use of train horns for the reasons set forth in this paper. As and when the matter arises again, we urge Council to refrain from taking any action which might lead to the cessation of the use of train horns in Newcastle and, indeed, in Clarington.

Respectfully submitted,

Bob Malone,
Immediate Past President
Newcastle/Bond Head Ratepayers Association

July 3, 2019

  • 1. Wikipedia (Train Horns essay)
  • 2. CP and CN Operations, via Clarington Fire Services

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