In 2010, the late Vavenby resident Judy Alexandre succeeded in eliminating the train whistle in her community, after a six-year campaign. CN rail had already installed lights, bells and arms to the crossing, so few upgrades were needed and the regional district paid for the safety assessment. /RMG FILE PHOTO

By Spencer Hall, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, RMG

After Valemount Council took the next step toward implementing train whistle cessation at the 5th Avenue and Dogwood railway crossings, The Goat spoke to several residents who live near the tracks who say the noise has impacted their sleep and quality of life.

Teddy Gordon, who has lived adjacent to the Dogwood railway crossing for the past six months, told The Goat the level of noise varies on the level of rail traffic and how the conductor sounds the whistle.

“Some days it’s really loud and so busy. I mean, we’re right beside the track, so when it’s loud, it’s really loud. I don’t find it that bad if they honk periodically as they’re going by. But some of them, there was one just today that sounded like he just laid on the horn all the way through town ” that’s a little much,” Gordon said.

Under the Canadian Rail Operating Rules, train conductors are required to sound the whistle whenever they come to a public grade crossing, however unnecessary use of the whistle is prohibited. The law states the conductor must sound the horn two long blows, one short, followed by one long at each
mandated crossing.

Gordon said his sleep is sometimes affected, adding there are nights where he’s been woken up five times by trains whistling.

“I get they have a reason. Obviously, they have to warn people, but I don’t know how little they can [whistle] legally,” Gordon said.

He added that if the trains weren’t as loud, it would make his property “the perfect spot.”

Cecil Laboucane, who lives with her husband near the tracks on 4th Avenue, told the Goat the noise level
from the trains improved about two months ago. Before that, she said her and her husband’s sleep was interrupted frequently.

“The trains went by approximately every 25 minutes. When we did fall asleep it was from exhaustion,” Laboucane said.

Local nurse, Emma Woolsey, who lives near the 5th Ave railway crossing and describes herself as a “solid sleeper,” estimates she’s woken by train whistles about five or six times a week on average.

“There’s some nights where I feel like I can go a whole night and wake up and be like, Oh, maybe I didn’t hear it. But then there’s some nights where I’m woken up like 3 to 4 times,” she said.

Woolsey, who’s lived in Valemount for just a few months since relocating from Hinton, Alberta, says she’s taken it upon herself to look at long term health impacts from noise pollution.

“There’s quite a bit of lengthy research out there on it too. Like the long term effects that you maybe wouldn’t notice so much because it’s all you know. Like if you grew up next to a train, you might
say you get used to it. But really, your body just learns to function,” Woolsey said.

According to National Geographic, exposure to loud noise can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep disturbances, and stress.

Woolsey said she hasn’t experienced any of these long term impacts, but has noticed that her cognition is impacted the next day after being woken up by passing trains.

Peter Fox, who’s lived near the train tracks for over 30 years, says train whistling has affected his quality of life since the first day he moved into his house.

“I couldn’t sleep. It just pierced right through my head. It just pierced my brain. It was just so sharp through the night,” Fox said.

During the three decades he’s spent living at his property, he’s noticed the noise gets worse in the winter due to the ice and snow amplifying the whistle.

Fox said the noise has significantly impacted his sleep.

“If you’ve got eight, nine or ten of these things, your REM sleep is interrupted at night, which is so essential. Now you’re just fatigued during that. So you walk around town and you just avoid people,”
Fox said.

Fox added that he’s experienced issues with his hearing over the past three to four years and believes this is because of his exposure to train whistles.

“That band of frequency has probably been blasted out of my ears,” Fox said.

When asked what his thoughts were on train whistle cessation, Fox said he wasn’t hopeful the program would be implemented.

“I’ve been disappointed so many times when action was going to be taken and nothing has ever really happened,” Fox said.

Woolsey said she’d like to see whistle cessation implemented in the Village and if that’s not possible, she’d like to know why.

“I think my life would be greatly changed for the better if they’d stop blowing the horn. What I would like is some transparency with the town at the very least if they can’t move forward with it,” Woolsey said.