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Proposal to stop train horns in Banff gaining steam

"It’s really up to the Town – not up to Parks Canada – to ask for this feasibility study," said Coun. Peter Poole, with community members leading an effort to reduce the amount of times CP trains use their horn while passing through Banff.
20210202 Banff Train 0007
A train passes through Banff. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – At least one Banff town councillor believes a proposal from residents to stop trains blasting horns through the national park townsite is on the right track.

Coun. Peter Poole plans to introduce a notice of motion in the hope of getting council support for the Town of Banff to ask Canadian Pacific Railway to do a feasibility study on stopping the train whistle through town.

“The duty is on the municipality to initiate a study with the railway,” he said, referring to the procedure outlined in the Transport Canada Railway Safety Act for stopping train whistles for at-grade crossings.

Tony Clevenger, a Banff wildlife scientist, is leading a campaign for a quiet zone in Banff, noting he’s collected more than 200 signatures, including from 11 seniors from Mount Edith House, which backs onto the train tracks.

He said noise from train horns is highly intrusive and can impact people’s physical health and well-being and can cause a range of physiological and behavioural responses in wildlife.

“The number of trains passing through Banff are increasing each year,” Clevenger said during a presentation to Banff town council on March 22.

“The problem of chronic noise is not going to disappear; it’s getting more acute and worrisome from a health and environmental perspective.”

Currently, there are about 24 trains on average passing through Banff every day –  at all times of the day and night.

Clevenger said this equates to about 200 horn blasts per day and 70,000 per year.

“That’s a lot of noise given we live in national park and UNESCO world heritage site,” he said, noting Canmore was successful in ceasing train horns 15 years ago.

Clevenger said a resident of Mount Edith House reached out to him when she heard about the petition.

He said 11 seniors there have signed the petition, with the average age being 77 years old and the oldest 95 years old.

“There are no sound attenuating walls there, no exemptions of trains horns, and horns go all hours of the day and night” he said.

“These people are highly vulnerable … these residents are exposed to chronic noise, they are on the front line.”

Studies have shown human-made noise can cause an array of health and stress concerns.

“The human health and well-being reasons are concerning and troublesome – train horns sound 200 times a day, 24 hours a day – this can disrupt sleep, cause irritability, and lead to other health problems,” Clevenger said.

The CP railway line also runs adjacent to a critical east-west wildlife corridor in the Bow Valley.

Clevenger said the Fenlands-Indian Grounds-Vermilion corridor is probably the most important along-valley travel route for wildlife in Banff National Park, noting it connects the Cascade and Sulphur wildlife corridors.

“Human-made noise can disrupt wildlife behaviour,” he said.

“Noise has been such an issue for wildlife that this council banned the annual fireworks on Canada Day and New Year’s Eve.”

The detailed process for getting trains to stop blowing horns comes from Section 104 of the Transport Canada Railway Safety Act for the grade crossing regulations.

One of the first steps requires a municipality to consult with the railway company on whether the request to stop train whistles is feasible from a safety perspective.

Coun. Poole said this is action the Town of Banff should be taking.

“If we want to be caring for the seniors and responsible stewards in the national park, it’s up to us to do our part,” he said.

“We can’t solve it entirely, but we can do something that is significant. It’s really up to the Town – not up to Parks Canada – to ask for this feasibility study.”

Cathy Ellis

About the Author: Cathy Ellis

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