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For Winnie Lo, the sound she hears almost every night is comparable to standing in front of an orchestral trumpet playing at full blast.
But there is no symphony playing for Lo. Rather, this is the noise of a train horn passing by her condo in the middle of the night or very early in the morning.
She said it’s a negative result of what she considers to be an unexpected scheduling change that has pushed train times later than she’d ever anticipated.
This has been depriving her of sleep for months.
“It just causes so much stress,” said Lo. “I can’t focus at work. You feel anxious all day because you’re not at your best anywhere you go.”
Lo said after talking with a real estate agent in 2016, which was the time her condo was offered for pre-sale, her impression was that a train would pass by once in the morning and once in the late evening.
She and her husband moved into to their new home around the Bailey-Cleveland intersection last year.
At first, things seemed fine.
“It was pretty much one train in the evening, like say 6 to 7 p.m.,” she recalled.
But she said the train eventually started running in the middle of the night and early morning, which was something she wasn’t expecting.
In recent months, trains can be heard blowing their horns anywhere between 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m., she said.
She also said that it appeared as if trains were blowing their horns for more extended periods of time.
Frustration regarding noisy trains isn’t limited to Lo’s complaints. It was a hot topic at a municipal hall meeting several weeks ago.
If things don’t improve within the next few months, Lo said she would move.
She said she hopes realtors, the District and CN can work together to reduce the noise or at least prevent prospective homebuyers from running into the same situation.
With respect to realtors, Pat Place the managing broker at Squamish Macdonald Realty, said that being upfront about train noise at a location is very important to her and her team.
“You have to,” said Place. “It’s disclosure. Disclosure, disclosure, disclosure.”
There aren’t any written policies at her company explicitly stating that things such as train noise should be disclosed to clients, but she said that it is a topic that she emphasizes and communicates to her team.
“It’s not in the company policy, it’s just something that we discuss at our meetings, again, about disclosure — disclosure of anything,” she said.
A representative from the Real Estate Council of B.C. said, “Under the Real Estate Services Act, real estate professionals must disclose to their clients ‘all known material information respecting the real estate services, and the real estate and the trade in real estate to which the services relate.’”
Penalties for failure to comply can amount to fines of up to $250,000 or licence suspensions, depending on the circumstances of individual cases.
Real estate agents in B.C. must be licensed by the council if they want to receive payment for their services.
Ann Chiasson, who heads RE/MAX Sea to Sky, speaks at a developers forum earlier this year. Chiasson also owns Sea to Sky Developments and was speaking in that capacity during the forum. - Steven Chua
Ann Chiasson, who heads RE/MAX Sea to Sky, said her company doesn’t have a formal policy on disclosure for train noise, as rail tracks are in plain sight.
“The realtors do not hide the fact that there’s a train — ever,” said Chiasson.
“I don’t have a policy on that because I would expect it’s much like if I took you to a property that was beside the river, you’d notice there was a river.”
She said that it can be a challenge to give customers the exact details on train traffic, as it isn’t available.
“The only things that realtors could do is say, ‘Yes there’s a train,’” said Chiasson.
“How many trains go by, you know, we absolutely don’t know because it varies and CN will not give out a schedule. So I think that’s the dilemma that as a realtor you’re doing your best.”
The Chief asked CN Rail, which is responsible for trains passing through Squamish, if it has considered operating on a set schedule so as to allow people to plan their sleeping habits.
“The railroad network operates 24/7 and train times locally will vary based on customer and operational needs,” responded CN public affairs manager Kate Fenske in an email.
Fenske didn’t answer a question regarding whether train whistles were being blown more often, but stated that locomotive engineers follow instructions in the Canadian Rail Operating Rules that outline when a whistle must be sounded.
“The whistle must be sounded while approaching the crossing and until the train has fully occupied the crossing,” she said.
She said operating rules specify all trains must sound their whistle one-quarter of a mile before all public crossings regardless of the crossing warning system in place.
Those rules were approved by Transport Canada in accordance with the Railway Safety Act, Fenske added.
On the District of Squamish’s end, municipal staff is working within what they have control over — the rail crossings.
“We are researching the additional cost that would be required to upgrade all the rail crossings through the community to the point that ‘whistle cessation’ could apply at all of them,” said Gary Buxton, general manager of community planning, in an email forwarded to The Chief.
“To do this, a much higher level of improvement would be needed beyond what is needed to meet required safety guidelines.”
Whistle cessation occurs when municipal council passes a resolution banning trains from whistling at crossings.
However, this could pose safety risks and staffers would have to ensure the rail crossings have enough safety features to allow trains to pass without blowing their horns.
It comes with a price, however.
“There is obviously a cost to this and the community will need to weigh that cost against the trade-offs,” said Buxton.
“Once we calculate the additional costs above-and-beyond the required safety levels to make whistle cessation a possibility, we will have that conversation.”
Aside from train crossings, the municipality has no control over the operations of CN and CP.
This article first appeared on www.squamishchief.com
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