Some residents in the Aldershot community of Burlington, Ontario have been fighting Canadian National Railway for 15 years, without success. Residents can’t sleep at night, their houses shake and rattle, and their property values have dropped with the increasing rail yard activity in their community.
The sometimes deafening noise at the CN Aldershot Rail Yard comes from shunting and coupling of rail cars, idling and slow-moving locomotives, load cell testing of locomotives, wheel and brake retarder squeal, compressed air releases, and many other disturbing noises associated with rail yard activities. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Railway Association of Canada list noises at rail yards as one of the top five railway proximity issues of concern to nearby residents. Noise in rail yards is far more frequent and of much longer duration than normal railway noise.
Residents are also concerned about their health, considering the well-documented carcinogenic effects of diesel exhaust from idling and slow-moving locomotives.
In 2006, the Aldershot community presented a petition to Canadian National Railway, their Mayor and Councillors, and their Member of Parliament, pleading for resolution to their nightmare. Petitioners suggested building a sound barrier and restricting noisy rail yard activities at night and during early mornings. CN essentially ignored the petition. Unfortunately, and as is the case across the country, local governments have no jurisdictional authority when it comes to railway activity including noise and vibration, so the local Mayor and Council have not been able to help. The federal government has the sole legislative responsibility for railway operations, safety and railway impacts on neighbouring communities.
Aldershot residents have seen their property values decrease as the rail yard activities have increased. Some residents near the rail yard have estimated their homes are worth about $200,000 less than comparable homes less than a 5-minute walk further away from the rail yard.
Recent derailments reported in the Aldershot community have also increased the stress of residents. Three CN cars loaded with ballast rock derailed in the Aldershot Rail Yard on April 22, 2014, when a train passed over a “frog”, a railway term that refers to the crossing point of two rails (Toronto Star). On February 26, 2012, three Via Rail engineers were killed and 46 other people were injured when a Via locomotive and five cars derailed near the Aldershot Station on track owned, operated and maintained by CN. The train was switching from one track to another when it flew off the tracks and collided with a building, destroying the locomotive that the three deceased crew members were in. A former CN project engineer said the deadly derailment might have been prevented if CN had heeded warnings and removed or upgraded an obsolete crossover between tracks designed mainly for freight trains travelling at a maximum speed of 24km/h (CBC News).
Aldershot community members are at their wit’s end. The unreasonable rail yard noise, health effects, property devaluation and derailments have placed tremendous stress on families and their overall quality of life. If there ever was a case where the federal government should exercise its legal responsibilities for appropriate railway operations, it is in the Aldershot community. Railroaded sincerely hopes the local Member of Parliament and the federal Transport Minister will help this community. We also encourage the Aldershot community to make a strong submission to the recently-created Canada Transportation Act Review Secretariat by December 30, 2014. For details on the review of this federal legislation, see Rail and Reason’s recent article.