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Guelph residents at their wits' end as trains honk horns at all hours of the night

In a statement to GuelphToday, a CN Rail spokesperson apologized for the inconvenience, but Mayor Cam Guthrie doesn't think the problem is going away any time soon
20190603 Edinburgh Road Pairlet Road Trains KA
Carolyn Ellis and her family live on Raglan Street, alongside train tracks owned by CN Rail. She is one of a number of residents in the area that are sick of the trains blasting their horn lately at all hours of the night. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

Residents living along the CN rail corridor between Willow Road and Edinburgh Road South have become accustomed to the noise of trains switching at all hours of the night recently.

But the problem has gotten worse over the last few days as the trains have been blasting their horns in the early morning hours, affecting the sleep of even more people in the area.

Carolyn Ellis and her family live on Raglan Street, a few hundred metres from the tracks. Her young sons have been recovering from the croup, a viral infection, and the doctor recommended keeping the windows open during the night to let in fresh, cool air.

Also important for her sons’ recovery is to get a full night of sleep, which has been difficult as train horns typically measure in at about 140 decibels.

”We have been doing everything we can. Having the fresh, cool air is important,” said Ellis. “But the sound just travels.”

Ellis said her family is used to hearing the odd noise at night time from the adjacent rail yard, but the amount of activity in the area has increased substantially since CN took over the operation of the tracks late in 2018, but the sounding of the horns is too much.

In a way, the loud noises at night are bringing the neighbours together, says Ellis. The lack of sleep is the hottest topic of discussion doing her walks in the neighbourhood.

“We are all walking around like zombies,” she said.

Her neighbour, Mark Andrachuk, said he is mystified as to why CN is doing this type of activity in a residential area. He figures the sleep of hundreds, if not thousands of people has been affected by the horns.

“I walk my daughter to school in the morning and it is amazing the number of neighbours I talk to who are just frustrated by this lack of sleep. You need your rest to function,” he said. “We all know there is a train track there and we signed up for that when we bought our houses, but there was never this kind of night time activity.”

Andrachuk has lived in the area for about 10 years and said he couldn’t remember hearing any activity on the tracks past 11 p.m. until CN took over the operation of the tracks from Goderich Exeter Railway Company.

“I don’t remember anything later than that and never the constant horns,” he said.

A Twitter user posted the following video showing how loud the horns are, which she said was recorded at 3:08 a.m. Monday:

Phil Allt, councillor for Ward 3, said he has heard from a lot of his constituents about the issue. His understanding is that CN trains are honking their horns because of a faulty switch in the area.

“If that’s the case — fix the bloody switch. It’s just that simple,” said Allt.

Although the city is receiving noise complaints, Allt notes there is little that can be done because the operation of railways falls under federal jurisdiction.

“Even though it’s not our issue, I am really sympathetic and offering whatever help I can,” said Allt. “I have called CN and gotten nowhere.”

Some residents are so fed up they are considering civil disobedience.

“I had one resident who said he was seriously considering just parking a car across the tracks to stop the trains. When citizens who are reasonable are getting to that point — we have a problem,” said Allt.

Simon Clark lives near the tracks and was kept awake through the early morning hours Monday because of the horns.

“I find it very disruptive — it wakes me up and I can’t fall asleep,” said Clark. “Last night it woke me up and half an hour later I would be drifting off to sleep again and it would wake me up again. I think the longest stretch without it last night was about an hour, but most of the time it was every three minutes.”

Clark said he talked to a CN Rail worker about the noise early Monday. 

“He said the night time activity is going to be ongoing every Sunday to Thursday. The disruption of that will continue, but it sounds like the signal that was causing the train whistle has been fixed — we will know tonight whether it is or not,” said Clark.

In a statement emailed to GuelphToday on Monday, CN Rail spokesperson Alexandre Boulé said the company apologizes to residents for the inconvenience and will continue to engage with the city and review its operations in order to mitigate as much as possible frustrations by local residents and the City.

Boulé said the condition of the rail infrastructure inherited after taking over the operation of the tracks from Goderich Exeter has necessitated a significant investment for safety and efficiency purposes.

“CN has begun making investments this year and will continue to invest in safety through 2020. These investments will address many of the issues leading to current frustrations,” said Boulé. “Going forward, we will make sure to notify the City of any planned changes in our operations that might have an impact on the residents.”

In a video posted to his Twitter account, Mayor Cam Guthrie said he spoke to CN about the issue and told the company it had to stop nighttime operations, but did not receive the answer he was hoping for.

Guthrie said he doesn't see this issue being resolved any time soon. He will be working with council on next steps to send CN a clear message that what they are doing has to stop.

Clark said aside from the nighttime noise concerns, he and other residents also worry about the general increase in rail activity since CN took over.

“We would often be stuck in our driveway for 20 minutes or half an hour — unable to get out because people were lined up waiting as the train was going back and forth and back and forth,” said Clark.

“It got to the point where there were kids coming home from school waiting to cross at the lights, but the lights were red so they never got a walk signal, so the kids would walk when they weren’t supposed to and then they would get to the train tracks and wait until the train was just out of the way and then run in front of it.”

“It’s a bad scene for everyone,” he said.


Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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