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Newmarket resident calls for end to loud train whistles at town crossings

Town has explored whistle cessation but has stopped pursuit for now
20211203-Newmarket whistle cessation-JQ
Newmarket resident Curtis Leishman said he would like to see something done about the train whistles near his Timothy Street home.

Newmarket resident Curtis Leishman has had to live with the sound of train whistles from his Timothy Street home for more than three years.

Lately, Leishman said he has noticed more whistles than normal as service begins to increase. With both him and his wife working from home video-conferencing, it has created a nuisance he would like to see addressed.

It has left him wondering: whatever happened to the idea of making the whistles cease? 

“Some are actually not that bad … but others are so high-pitched that our Apple watches actually record a decimal warning from inside our condo on occasion,” he said. “With more Newmarket residents working from home, it becomes a bit difficult to be on video-conferencing as we have to mute each time a train passes by.

York Region municipalities have considered train whistle cessation for several years. Markham finished upgrading their stations in January 2021 after a years-long process, in order to allow for trains to stop blowing whistles — something required by Transport Canada. Other municipalities in York, such as Whitchurch-Stouffville are considering it, but none have yet to follow suit. 

Leishman said he would like to see alternative controls considered to make whistles more consistent or a lower decibel level. He said it could make sense as train service increase, with Metrolinx planning to bring 15-minute, all-day service to Barrie.  

Newmarket examined the issue around 2014 and 2015, directing staff in September 2014 to explore the feasibility of stopping whistles at urban crossings in town. Metrolinx presented to the council lin November 2016 to discuss rail expansion. They detailed an eight-step process to make cessation happen, requiring sufficient upgrades at stations and a follow-up resolution from council prohibiting whistling.

But in Newmarket, that never came. Commissioner of development and infrastructure Peter Noehammer said no formal decision was made regarding whistle cessation.

“Presently, the Town continues to explore cost-effective ways to mitigate the impacts from railway corridors,” Noehammer said. “With the pandemic and other projects currently underway, the town hasn’t been able to revisit the topic at this time. Furthermore, with active discussions ongoing with York Region and Metrolinx regarding 15 minute GO Train Service and a potential grade separation at two Newmarket crossings, it would not be advisable to invest in whistle cessation measures at this time.”

Whistle cessation carries a price tag. Markham and York Region spent approximately $6 million to upgrade 13 crossings to stop whistles sounding there, with Markham contributing $2.3 million and York Region adding $3.8 million. 

Leishman said he understands if the town or citizens are not eager to pay that cost. 

“I am a huge proponent of improving life for the better good,” he said. “But I can see why people won’t be a fan of spending money on this.”

But he added that it might make sense to upgrade the stations in time.

“It comes down to the fact that service has greatly increased over the last 10 years, and so has the population living close enough to the tracks to be affected,” he said. “Something needs to be done, and if the only solution is the crossing upgrades, they should be done eventually.”

Editor's Note, Jan. 28, 2022: This article was altered to clarify that the cost of the whistle cessation project in Markham was shared by the City of Markham and Regional Municipality of York.