New Westminster seeks to silence train whistles in Queensborough

City's 2014 budget includes $700,000 for railway-related issues

Queensborough residents could soon be enjoying more peace and quiet if a proposed agreement stays on track.

The City of New Westminster has reached a memorandum of understanding with Southern Railway of B.C. and Port Metro Vancouver that lays out a process to stop train whistles along the rail company’s corridor. They will work together to begin the planning process needed to further explore and implement a process for getting train whistle cessation along the Queensborough and mainland New Westminster corridor served by Southern Railway.

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“It’s good news for residents along the Southern Railway corridor,” said Mayor Wayne Wright. “A lot of effort has gone into finding a solution and this is a positive step forward.”

As part of the initiative, $1 million has been pledged toward implementation of whistle cessation, with the city and Southern Railway contributing equally.

“We are very pleased to be participating in this initiative with City of New Westminster and Port Metro Vancouver,” said Southern Railway CEO and president Frank Butzelaar in a press release. “It is part of our ongoing efforts to help mitigate the impacts of rail operations on communities in which we live and work.”

Port Metro Vancouver has also pledged to work toward contributing funding to this initiative.

“As Canada’s busiest gateway, we strive to minimize the impact generated by the economic activity of port related businesses on our local communities,” said Tom Corsie, vice president of real estate at Port Metro Vancouver. “We are always looking for collaborative opportunities to engage with our stakeholders and supply chain partners toward achieving this goal.”

A joint sub-committee has been created to work at getting whistle cessation. The memorandum of understanding outlines the next steps, which include defining objectives, assessing viable options, determining the scope of the project and the responsibilities of all the parties involved.

The City of New Westminster established a railway advisory committee in August 2012 to consider the issue of train whistling in New Westminster. The city noted that the train whistles have increased their impact on livability as the city has grown.

 “They are understanding that they are part of the community,” said Coun. Chuck Puchmayr, chair of the railway advisory committee.  “Some of them live here. They all work here. They are starting to look at it that way. I think also they understand the frustration people are experiencing. They are getting it.”

According to Puchmayr, Port Metro Vancouver may have some community grant funding that could be available for the initiative, and may also be able to advocate on the city’s behalf for federal infrastructure funding.

“Southern is willing to start right away,” he said. “They are going to start the planning process. We have a task force together with some engineers.”

Puchmayr said he appreciates Southern Railway and Port Metro Vancouver’s willingness to work with the city to find a solution that improves the quality of life for New Westminster residents. He said the agreement would eliminate the need for train whistles at all of Southern Rail’s crossings from Quayside to Ewen Avenue in Queensborough, unless it was an emergency.

“Fortunately there is one carrier. It is a lot easer to work with one carrier,” he said. “When they came back to us, we told them we wanted them to (financially) contribute. That is something that is unheard of.”

James Crosty, past president of the Quayside Community Board, said Southern Railway is to be commended for being a partner to this memorandum of understanding.

“This company was the first to respond to the Quayside concerns many years ago and remains a good community partner,” he said in an email to The Record. “It will be interesting to see how this unfolds – remaining hopeful for success – or if this is just a premature announcement.”

The Quayside Community Board has been advocating for an end to nighttime rail noise for many years.

Crosty said it appears that Queensborough will benefit the most from the memorandum of understanding. While that would be good news for Queensborough, he said the rest of New Westminster also awaits improvements to train whistling.

Jim Lowrie, the city’s director of engineering department, said the city expects to complete improvements at Begbie and Front streets this year, which would result in whistle cessation at those crossings.

Roger Emanuels, the city’s manager of design and construction, said the city has $500,000 in this year’s budget for those two crossings, as well as an additional $200,000 for other rail improvements. If necessary, the city could shift those funds around and use them for whatever work is needed to stop whistles at crossings being done this year.

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