In response to complaints about the change in train schedules, CP Rail sent a representative to the city council meeting Monday night.
Mike LoVecchio, Director of Government Affairs, made a presentation to council and listened to comments and questions from the audience for over an hour and a half. The comments were often filled with frustration and emotion as speaker after speaker expressed concerns over safety issues and the troublesome, sleep-depriving whistles.
During his presentation, LoVecchio explained what has taken place. “We made a decision to change our operation locally and improve its efficiency. On September 22 we consolidated our daily movements in the West Kootenay.” As a result of the changes CP was able to redeploy three locomotives elsewhere. Another stated benefit for the company was changing the locomotive idle time from up to 12 hours a day to less than three hours a day.
LoVecchio also emphasized the fact that the use of the train whistle is an integral part of safety and is required by law at all level crossings.
He laid out the only way in which whistle cessation can take place. First, the railroad and the municipality must agree to work together to achieve whistle cessation. Following that the municipality must notify certain parties as laid out by Transport Canada guidelines. Next there must be a review of all crossings by an engineer. Finally, the municipality must indemnify the railroad from any incident at a crossing.
“It is a detailed process and takes time,” Lovecchio stated.
There are seven crossings within Castlegar. Councillor Heaton Sherstibetoff reported that her research showed that the outfitting of the crossings with lights and gates alone would be about $300,000 per crossing, not including the consultation process or liability issues.
Councillor Deb MacIntosh firmly stated her opinion of the situation.
“This recent impact on our community is really unacceptable. You have impacted the business community. Corporately you guys have done us wrong. I think that you guys owe the community along the tracks an apology. You need to relook at things. Not only is your company 24/7, our community is 24/7.”
The answer that was given repeatedly by LoVecchio in response to complaints about the nighttime noise was, “We are a 24/7 operation.” His response to questions as to why they must run this new night schedule was, “The decision was made to improve the efficiency of our operation.”
James Nichol, a biology professor at Selkirk College summed up the feelings of the audience when he stated, “I would like to have a company that would work with the community a little bit. I know it is about the bottom line and I know that people have jobs, I know engineers have to work, I know that freight has to get from point A to point B. But there has got to be a compromise. I cannot see a better way to destroy a town… than letting the residents of town not sleep.”
The CP Rail representative made no concessions at the meeting; however there were two areas that he said he would take back to the company for discussion. The first was in response to repeated accusations that the train whistles seem louder and longer than they were previously.
Lovecchio explained that the whistle is regulated and the decibel level is constant but that the length the whistle blows is controlled manually. He informed the crowd that whistle use is one of the things recorded by a locomotive’s “black box.” He will be requesting proficiency testing in the whistle operation.
The second thing he pledged to take to the company for discussion was a suggestion that some form of shuttle vehicle be used to transport the rail workers from Castlegar to Trail, rather than running the train to reposition workers.