Blackfalds council wants to find out what safety upgrades would be required if the town was to pursue putting a stop to train whistles.
Council voted 5-2 in favour of directing staff to prepare a request for proposal for a rail safety assessment to determine what changes, if any, would need to be made at three rail crossings in town before an agreement to silence train whistles would be considered by Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and Transport Canada.
Among those voting against was Mayor Jamie Hoover, who was concerned that seeking requests for proposals could raise expectations in the community that an end to train whistles was coming. Coun. Brenda Dennis also voted against.
“I do have a concern with going out to RFP, setting up expectations with people, getting a controversy stirred up if we’re not necessarily going forward,” said Hoover. “I would almost rather defer this for a year or something and look at it again.
“Not that I’m not in favour of this in the future, I’m just not in favour of it at this time.”
Hoover said he feels there are a number of unanswered questions, such as how upgrades already completed in the town centre might be affected by any crossing changes.
Coun. Rebecca Stendie asked if the town could emphasize that whistle cessation is only being explored and no decision to go ahead has not been made
Preston Weran, town infrastructure and property services director, said staff will make that clear as it goes ahead with the request for proposals and brings back a report.
Weran said the proposal request would be the first of a number of steps that would have to be approved before whistles could be silenced.
The safety assessment would involve inspecting the town’s three railway crossings for any deficiencies and assessing safety risks, such as what trespassing might be happening along the rail lines.
“What they look at specifically when they look at cessation is pedestrian movements and trespassing of those pedestrian movements,” he told council.
To have the whistles silenced, municipalities must meet with railway officials and agree on what upgrades are needed. The public must be notified what is happening and council must pass a resolution before the railway stops the whistles.
Weran has already met with CP Rail staff who deal with whistle cessation requests. Those talks suggest about $42,000 in additional fencing would be required and changes made to the pedestrian crossing at South Street that would cost around $25,000. It is estimated the safety assessment would cost $25,000 to $50,000.
The town hopes to get grants to cover some of the cost.
The improvements expected to be required are limited because Blackfalds has been upgrading its rail crossings in recent years and they are well above current safety standards.
Train whistles was put on the front burner again after a town resident came to council in February to complain about the whistle din that robs residents of sleep an open house was organized on April 14 to get local feedback.
Of the 48 responses the town got at the open house or who submitted comments online, 26 were in favour of the town pursuing an agreement with railway and Transport Canada officials to have the whistles stopped. Twenty-one were not in favour and one respondent said they needed more information before taking a position.
Other communities have successfully silenced train whistles, including Innisfail.