While reducing train whistling is possible at crossings, train crews are required to whistle at all public crossings regardless of the type of crossing warning system in place, according to CN. (Black Press file photo)

While reducing train whistling is possible at crossings, train crews are required to whistle at all public crossings regardless of the type of crossing warning system in place, according to CN. (Black Press file photo)

Houston residents pile pressure on council over rail concerns

Petition gathers over 400 signatures

Houston residents are putting pressure on district council to continue their efforts to improve railway safety.

Longtime Houston resident Ron Harris said he’s gone door knocking to gather approximately 430 signatures in favour of a petition he’s presented to district council.

The petition, presented during the public comment period of last week’s regular council meeting, urges council to “act now” to install a gated level crossing where Benson Avenue crosses the CN tracks.

“It’s the only entrance to that neighbourhood,” Harris told the Houston Today. “If there was an accident there, it blocks about 60 homes and a water treatment plant, and there’s no way to get medical or fire [personnel] to protect people.”

Apart from the safety risk, Harris said rail traffic through Houston has also resulted in noise pollution. He hopes the installation of a gated level crossing, or crossing arms, would address both the safety risk and the noise of train whistles.

The District of Houston has already been taking steps to address these concerns. Council members met with CN officials earlier this fall.

READ MORE: Council meets with CN to discuss Benson crossing improvements

The financing for the crossing arms would require the district to seek outside funding, however, so the district has asked CN for financial assistance.

Gerald Pinchbeck, the district’s chief administrative officer, said more discussions are still needed.

“There is no funding commitment at this time for any crossings from CN, nor any timeline established for whistle cessation,” Pinchbeck said. “Staff are working with CN Rail at this point.”

CN has released a similar statement, saying it “continues to work with the District of Houston to discuss potential solutions and will continue to engage with them.”

With regard to train whistles, CN said that while reducing train whistling is possible at crossings, train crews are required to whistle at all public crossings regardless of the type of crossing warning system in place. A municipality can apply to halt whistles at some locations but that requires a series of steps beginning with a detailed safety assessment.

Harris said that while he took the initiative to start the petition, the safety and noise concerns have been expressed by local residents for at least 20 years. Out of all the people he contacted, he said, only a handful of residents weren’t interested in signing the petition.

“It’s been brought up again and again, but it’s always been passed over,” Harris said. “Safety should be the number one priority in any community.”

—With files from Rod Link

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