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Court decision could set rail-noise precedent

A legal action involving New Westminster residents upset about rail noise could create precedents that would apply to communities like White Rock and Crescent Beach.
White Rock officials are monitoring a legal action involving rail noise in New Westminster for precedents that could apply to Semiahmoo Peninsula communities.

A legal action involving New Westminster residents upset about rail noise could create precedents that would apply to communities like White Rock and Crescent Beach.

“We’ll be following up on this to see if there are any ramifications pertaining to White Rock,” city administrator Peggy Clark said Tuesday commenting on a case in which New Westminster residents – looking to rid the Quayside neighbourhood of late-night rail noise and vibrations – descended upon the Federal Court of Appeal in downtown Vancouver on last week.

New West residents may have to wait up to three months for any relief, however, while a three-judge panel decides the case.

But Clark noted the noise situation in New Westminster is a result of rail car switching operations in waterfront marshalling yards – quite different from the rail traffic through White Rock and South Surrey.

Nighttime train whistles have been a principal issue for residents such as White Rock’s Floyd Stanley, who says he has found growing support for a citizens’ committee since his letter complaining about rail noise appeared in the Peace Arch News earlier this year. “It’s encouraging,” he said of the New Westminster case.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens – I was thinking it would be nice to start something similar here.”

But while Clark agreed with Stanley that there is an agreement between the city and BNSF that train whistles should not, in general, be sounded between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., Transport Canada directives on sounding whistles, where there is a question of safety, take precedence over the agreement.

Quayside Community Board rail noise committee chairman Brian Allen said the judges’ decision would have significant ramifications for the government as well.

“The ruling that comes out of this will impact every single government agency department that has a public complaints mediation process,” he said.

Allen said the QCB was satisfied with the original 2008 agreement the CTA helped broker between the railway companies and the community board.

The agreement called for Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian National Railway, BNSF Railway and Southern Railway to reduce noise to a reasonable level in the evening and maintain a phone line for complaints. The rail companies have not honoured a number of conditions of the mediated settlement, according to Allen.

“We didn’t see it as a conflict. We saw it as an opportunity for them to make (it) right… and they didn’t,” Allen said. “So because they didn’t, we filed another complaint.”

He said a confidentiality agreement prevents him and Crosty from speaking about other alleged breaches of the 2008 mediated settlement.

Crosty said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome of the court proceedings. He said the ultimate goal is for the CTA to establish a period between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. when trains are not permitted to engage in coupling, decoupling or shunting.

“They could still be able to go through, but they can’t exchange cars and create that noise and vibration that happens when you slam cars together,” Crosty said.

The panel of judges is expected to issue its decision in about three months, but Allen said he would love to see a ruling within 30 days.

– with files from Tyler Orton



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