New Westminster rail noise decision could take three months

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 Tuesday.

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 Tuesday.

But they may have to wait up to three months for any relief, as a three-judge panel decides the case.

About a dozen locals watched lawyers representing railway companies and the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) make arguments before a panel of judges about whether the CTA has the authority to reopen a 2008 agreement between the Quayside Community Board and the railways operating in New Westminster.

QCB president James Crosty said the case not only affects the city, but will have repercussions across the country as well.

“We’re told a couple of dozen communities are awaiting results on this,” Crosty said. “This is the first time the CTA has been questioned about its ability to rule against rail companies.”

QCB 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 most of the other alleged breaches of the 2008 mediated settlement.

Richard DeFilippi, counsel for the railway companies, told the three-judge panel that the mediated settlement was binding and the CTA—a quasi-judicial administrative tribunal—does not have the mandate to revisit the matter.

“That agreement had been resolved by the parties themselves and there was no need or ability on the part of the [CTA] to reopen that dispute and give its own views, or its own determination, or its own adjudication of that dispute because it had already been resolved or settled in 2008,” DeFilippi told the NewsLeader.

CTA lawyer John Dodsworth argued that the 2008 agreement was never a legally binding contract since the rail companies did not file it with the CTA in order to make it a valid consent agreement.

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.

“I think it’s a pretty cut and dry case and the rail companies are grasping at straws,” Allen said.

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