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Noise Wall Needed for Loud Diesel Trains

What is this I hear about a wall?

Metrolinx, the Provincial Government agency that runs GO Transit and the proposed Air Rail Link (ARL), is planning to build a 5 metre tall noise barrier wall along the Kitchener Rail Corridor.

The Metrolinx diesel noise wall will be 5-meters high, shown here in a mock-up built by Kevin Putnam of the Junction Triangle Rail Committee.

Why is the barrier needed?

In fact, Metrolinx own study shows that the noise barrier will not yet be needed in all areas of the corridor, yet they are being installed along the entire length as part of the expanded rail service between Union Station and Pearson Airport. Modeling has shown that this new service will have a minimal impact on noise levels. The trains for the ARL service use smaller engines in each car to power the train, unlike the GO trains that have one huge locomotive. The ARL trains are also less than one fifth the size of the GO trains. The proposed ARL cars have engines similar in power to those in transport trucks.

Why build walls if they are not needed?

Demand for rail transportation continues to increase and Metrolinx knows that GO service will be increased on the corridor in the future. If GO service in the corridor were to be increased to its theoretical maximum frequency of all-day two-way service to all destinations using their current trains, the noise levels would trigger the need for noise abatement. To obtain approval for the project, Metrolinx was required to continually monitor noise levels and work to minimize them.

By installing walls now, Metrolinx can claim they have done everything possible to control noise and therefore do not need to continue monitoring. Just ask folks living west of Keele Station why this may not be acceptable.

Are there other ways to minimize train noise?

Absolutely! The most effective measures for noise control begin at the source. Continuous and well-designed rails can greatly reduce track noise such as we hear from the subway. Lighter trains and slower speeds also reduce the amount of noise created. However, the most significant contributor to noise from the corridor is the rumble of the huge diesel locomotives. Quieter self-propelled trains reduce noise drastically. Electric powered trains are quieter still as they eliminate the engine noise altogether.

What if the trains bother me already?

A sound wall will reduce outdoor noise for those living within about 200 meters of the corridor. It is less effective at blocking low-frequency noise (such as engine rumble), will have little impact on noise in upper levels of your house, and will not do much for those that hear the trains from more than a block away. If the train noise is bothering you now, there may be better ways it could be dealt with rather than by building a wall.

How will the wall impact me?

That all depends on where exactly you live, and how much time you spend outside of your house and around your neighbourhood. The wall has a single intended purpose, and many unintended side effects.

Advantages:

  • noise reduction

Disadvantages:

  • blocked sight lines and shadowing
    • roads connecting to Dundas will experience a dead-end tunnel effect
  • noise reflection
    • noise from Dundas will no longer dissipate out over the corridor
  • aesthetic impacts
    • no wall will look as good as “no wall”. Budget constraints will limit what is done to ensure the wall is not an ugly eyesore
  • expensive
    • the wall will cost public money that could be better spent on more effective and less obtrusive noise control measures

Some things to think about:

-if a wall is built, it is very unlikely to be removed
-barrier walls deter, divide, segregate, contain and oppress.
-walls of this scale are always built to somebody’s detriment
-the need for a wall will be greatly diminshed as Metrolinx converts to an electric system
-if Metrolinx holds to their proposed timelines for service increases and electrification, noise levels will never make a sound barrier necessary
-an electrified all-day two-way service of the future would be less noisy than the diesel powered service level of today

How tall will the proposed wall be?

The wall will be 5m above the level of the track. On the West Bend section of Dundas Road, this approaches 7m above steet level. This is more than the height of a two story building and is higher than some of the cables currently strung between poles.

The Metrolinx wall will be higher than the Berlin Wall, shown in this comparison prepared by the Junction Triangle Rain Committee.

What do you propose?

The Clean Train Coalition would like Metrolinx to continue to monitor noise levels from the corridor and take a comprehensive approach to minimizing the negative impacts of the rail corridor. All the while promoting the many benefits of public rail transit.

We ask that Metrolinx not force a sound barrier upon the many communities along the ARL corridor now if it does not make sense, if it is not desirable to the community, and especially not to just to absolve themselves of all future responsibility to the community.

We ask that Metrolinx not build walls through our neighbourhoods unless other alternatives have been presented and the local community explicitly wants this option.

Especially, we ask that Metrolinx hold true to their commitment to accelerate the electrification of the rail corridor adjacent to this community.

Electrification of the corridor would eliminate the need for most of the noise barriers, improve quality of life in our neighbourhood, benefit the environment and drastically improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of our public transit system.