When I hear that whistle blowin’ I hang my head and cry.
— Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues
Some people enjoy the plaintive lament of a train whistle as a big engine goes by.
Others, not so much.
CN is a busy line that rumbles through McLure several times a day, and getting busier. The grade crossing at Ferry Road is equipped with flashing lights and boom gates, but the trains still blow their whistles.
In 2006, residents submitted a petition to Grant Fraser, who was the director for Electoral Area P at the time, asking support for the removal of the whistles. Fraser took it to the TNRD board, which agreed.
A covering letter from the residents pointed out that sight lines at the crossing are clear in all directions.
“Since the railway traffic has increased dramatically, the residents of McLure find that the train whistling has become unbearable and very disturbing,” the letter said.
“We hope you realize how important this is to everyone and your immediate attention to this would be greatly appreciated.”
Well, here we are in 2016 and I don’t think anyone would call 10 years “immediate.” So why hasn’t anything been done?
In fact, it’s not that nothing has been done, it’s just that it’s being done slowly. Sometimes the wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly down the track, and removing a train whistle is more complicated that one might think.
John Sternig, Grant Fraser’s successor as director, moved things along by funding a safety study on removal of the whistles, at a cost of $6,900.
After I took over as Area P director a year ago, I thought this one would be easy to complete, and committed $7,700 in discretionary funding to construction of a fence as required for safety purposes. I expected the whistles to stop in a few weeks.
It took several months to get the necessary permit from CN and to get the fence built. Since that time, back in May of last year, the TNRD, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, and CN have been working together to get the rest of the process completed.
Liability, of course, is a major concern. Over the years, crossing standards have changed and everything is updated from time to time.
Things like the condition of the crossing, the gradient of the approaches and the timing of the lights and gates all become subject to new scrutiny when removal of whistles is considered. Volume and type of traffic over the crossing must be studied.
In McLure’s case, the original safety report had to be reviewed and updated by the consultants.
That has been completed and is now being reviewed by CN and MOTI. I’m hopeful that one day soon, we’ll be able to stand at the McLure crossing and listen to the last train blow its whistle as it goes past.
Area P isn’t the only electoral area in which residents have asked for whistle cessation. Because there’s no designated funding available within the TNRD to study and implement silencing of train whistles, electoral area directors are looking at possibilities for changing that.
Maybe other communities with situations similar to McLure will be able to get it done more quickly.
The above article was published this week in my regular column in The Sun Peaks Independent News.