White Rock residents should be able to sleep a little better, following a Transport Canada order to BNSF that effectively reinstates an overnight ‘quiet zone’ along the waterfront rail line.
According to an order issued Wednesday by safety inspector Dennis Maskell, trains must sound a “repetitive succession of short horn blasts” from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. while travelling between East and West Beach.
Outside of those hours, “normal BNSF whistling protocol as per their current timetable and bulletins remains in effect,” the order states.
Train whistles have long been a source of contention in the community. The issue’s intensity ramped up early last month, after Transport Canada ordered BNSF to ensure the horn blasts were sounded from one end of the waterfront line to the other, “from dawn until dusk.”
Thursday, BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas told Peace Arch News that the “dawn to dusk” reference “led to interpretation differences” by train crews – and an influx of calls from residents complaining about excessive overnight whistling.
Wednesday’s order provides clarity, Melonas said.
“Now, the order has been defined. If there are not dangerous situations at night, our crews are to abide by the requirement that’s ordered from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“The matter is being communicated immediately. Hopefully… we can minimize some of the concern.”
The initial order was issued June 6 along with two others – one specifically to the City of White Rock, and one asking the city and BNSF to jointly come up with a strategy to curb trespassing along the tracks at the western end of Bayview Park, at the Finlay Street crossing and at the foot of the Coldicutt Ravine stairs.
Fencing that was identified for the latter two areas raised burial-site concerns for the Semiahmoo First Nation, which asked Transport Canada and BNSF to put that work on hold pending an archaeological assessment.
All of the Transport Canada orders cite “an immediate threat to safe railway operations.”
Concerns with the overnight whistling were raised by many residents who attended the city-hosted “community dialogue” on rail safety and the transportation of dangerous goods Monday. One woman said the train noise is “wrecking my life.” Another said she hadn’t slept for more than four or five hours a night since the overnight whistling began.
Melonas said standard protocol remains in place, dictating use of the whistle at any time of day if there is an emergency or dangerous situation on the track remains in place.
“There will be times where the whistle is required if there is a dangerous situation beyond this time period,” he said, citing maintenance work and inspections as well as the “major problem” of late-night trespassing.
“It is a regular occurrence for people to be on the tracks during these hours.”