Banff resident calls for council to stop trains sounding their horns within the townsite

People might think a train whistle is evocative, even romantic when it’s heard from far off in the distance.

But for some living in Banff, Alta., it’s not so much a novelty than a nuisance.

Tony Clevenger, a wildlife scientist living in Banff for the past six months, recently launched a petition in the hopes of silencing trains’ blaring horns when they pass through the townsite, which he says happens multiple times a day.

He says there are real issues that come with environmental noise.

“They can have significant effects on human health and certainly they can cause changes in wildlife behaviour and even wildlife populations,” Clevenger said.

“We live in Canada’s premier national park. It’s a World Heritage site. It’s an important conservation landscape at a continental scale.”

While there aren’t any specific studies for Banff showing how the noise associated with the trains affects humans and animals, Clevenger says there are studies that show environmental noises like trains can cause problems for people and wildlife elsewhere.

“Sounding the horn can cause impacts on people’s food, their health, their well-being,” Clevenger said. “It can cause sleep deprivation, irritability.”

Clevenger’s petition asks Banff town council to end the blaring train horns.

Hundreds of times a day

Clevenger says there are about 24 trains that come through the town each day. There are two crossings where horns are routinely sounded four times at each, which he says equates to about almost 200 blasts a day.

“If you count it over an entire year, it’s [over] 70,000 times you hear this horn each year,” Clevenger said.

The Transport Canada website notes that in some cases where the sound bothers those living nearby, municipalities can stop trains from sounding their horns. The municipality must consult with the railway company about whether the request is feasible and notify all relevant associations and organizations, along with the public.

If it’s decided that the crossings meet the requirements, the municipality must then pass a resolution to allow the trains to be silent at the crossings. 

The Town of Canmore went through the process and passed a whistle cessation bylaw in 2006. Clevenger believes it is more than feasible for the same to be done in Banff.

“We can’t stop the trains, but we can silence them,” the petition reads.

On the Transport Canada website, it says train whistling is meant to keep motorists and pedestrians safe, and according to the Canadian Rail Operating Rules, all trains have to sound their horns whenever they approach a public grade crossing.

Clevenger argues there are already measures in place at the train crossings, including the gates, bells and lights.

“It doesn’t mean that they’re not going to sound [the] horn if there’s anything on the tracks,” Clevenger said.

“But just routinely coming through, they’re sounding the horn. That’s what we want to find out from CP, whether this is necessary.”

As of Monday afternoon, the petition had 161 signatures. Clevenger says that includes signees from a seniors’ home in town.

“These people have problems sleeping and they would like to see a quiet zone created.”

Clevenger says he has plans to present the petition to Banff town council this month.

CP Rail did not return requests from CBC News for comment.

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