Casual Legal: Train whistle woes

Whenever trains move through public grade crossings, they are legally obligated to sound their whistles to warn people that they are approaching the crossing.

However, given that trains run frequently and at all hours, residents and others living nearby can find these whistles annoying at best, and a sleep-depriving nuisance at worst. Further, because interprovincial railways are a federal undertaking, provinces and municipalities cannot act unilaterally in that realm.

In 2003, the Federal Government created a process allowing municipalities to work with railway companies and, if certain conditions are met, restrict the use of train whistles at certain crossings. The procedure to restrict train whistles is as follows:

  • Step 1 – The municipality develops an interest (likely from a citizen or community group) in stopping the train whistling at a specific or multiple crossings.
  • Step 2 – The municipality consults with the railway company that operates the relevant line the crossing or crossings are on to assess the feasibility of the whistling cessation request.
  • Step 3 –The municipality notifies all relevant associations or organizations and issues a public notice of its intention to pass a resolution declaring that it agrees whistles should not be used at a specific area (crossing or multiple crossings) along a railway corridor.
  • Step 4 - The municipality and the railway company assess whether or not the area (crossing or multiple crossings) meets the whistling cessation requirements specified in s. 104 of the Grade Crossings Regulations and Appendix D of the Grade Crossings Standards. This may be done by engaging a professional engineer to determine if the area complies with the conditions in the regulations.
  • Step 5 - Municipality and railway company agree the crossing(s) meets the prescribed requirements of the Grade Crossings Regulations and Standards. If the municipality and the railway company do not mutually agree the crossing(s) meets the prescribed requirements, they must attempt to resolve the conflict.
  • Step 5A (optional) - Municipality and railway company request a final decision from Transport Canada. If disagreement between the municipality and the railway persists, the supporting documentation should be provided to railsafety [at] (Transport Canada) for further assessment. Transport Canada’s decision on the issue is final.
  • Step 6 - Once it is deemed that the provisions of the Grade Crossings Regulations and Standards are satisfied, the municipality must declare, by resolution, that it agrees train whistles should not be used at the prescribed crossing(s). A copy of the resolution should be sent to the railway company and all relevant associations or organizations, including the headquarters of Transport Canada’s Rail Safety Directorate.
  • Step 7 - Upon receipt of the resolution, the railway company issues its special instructions. The railway company notifies the headquarters of Transport Canada’s Rail Safety Directorate of the effective date of whistling cessation at the crossing(s), and provide a copy of its special instructions. The railway company notifies the municipality and/or the road authorities in writing of the whistling cessation not later than 30 days after the day whistling is ceased.
  • Step 8 - Municipality and railway share the responsibility for monitoring and maintaining the conditions supporting the cessation of train whistles at the crossing(s).

To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.