City of Lacombe to pursue safety improvements to rail crossings en route to whistle cessation

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Needed safety upgrades for railway crossings in Lacombe may finally silence the majority of train whistles within city limits.

On Monday, during their regular meeting, city council unanimously made the decision to bring forward safety standard improvements to the Wolf Creek Dr., 50th Ave and 46th Ave. crossings adjacent Hwy 2A for the 2020 and/or 2021 budget deliberations.

With the caveat the decision to proceed with the project would be based on the receipt of grant funds, improvements would bring the crossings to Transport Canada’s 2021 safety standards, and at the same time pave the way for whistle cessation once upgrades are complete.

“There’s been an active campaign by a portion of the public that would just as soon see the end of train whistles in Lacombe, so it’s something we need to look into,” said City of Lacombe Mayor Grant Creasey. “From the people I talk to on the street, I don’t think it’s a primary concern, but most would just as soon not have whistles – provided it wasn’t going to cost a bunch of money specifically to put an end to them.”

Creasey says it’s been an issue he can remember hearing people talk about in the community since when he was a boy. In more recent history. council received a report on train whistles and the history of the issue in the community in 2013.

In 2015, a 20-name petition was submitted in effort to finally silence train whistles, but council balked at what was going to be a $500,000-plus cost to pursue it, and didn’t proceed when the issue was once again brought up in 2016.

The cry to silence them, however, has endured, and when a Rail Safety Assessment was required following changes to Transport Canada’s at-grade crossing regulations, the city included a Whistle Cessation Review of the city’s five rail crossings, as well as three just outside of the city in Lacombe County.

As per the report on both, a total of $580,000 would be required for total whistle cessation, however, looking at whistle cessation on only the Leduc Line – the three crossings parallel to Hwy 2A which would see an 85 per cent reduction in whistles per day – would be a more palatable $72,500.

About $60,000 of that is aimed at reconfiguring the 50th Ave. crossing near Tim Hortons, including an overhaul of the stop light and signal light system to ensure reduce motorists stopping on the tracks. It would also include an adjustment to the sidewalk to form a straight path across the tracks, as well as the extension of the fence bordering the rail line to stop pedestrians from cutting behind the lights and other safety infrastructure.

Safety improvements are eligible for a Transport Canada grant of up to 80 per cent of the project. The remainder of the cost would be shared between the city and Canadian Pacific Railway, which is key in council’s decision to move forward. Should funds not be realized through grants, council could still decide not to pursue whistle cessation.

Another $500 would go towards safety upgrades at Wolf Creek Drive, and the remaining $12,000 is earmarked for whistle cessation requirements at all three crossings.

Council would need to approach Lacombe County for whistle cessation at the Range Road 270 and 34th St. crossings on the Leduc Line.

Complete whistle cessation in the community, however, isn’t likely, as Bretcher Line crossings at 34 st. and Wolf Creek Drive, would require $2,000 in remedial work by the city, and another $503,500 for whistle cessation requirements at Wolf Creek Drive alone. The Bretcher Line only sees an average of three trains per day.

Although council is pursing cessation, pending grant funding, they made it known the safety aspect was their motivation for improvements to the crossings and not the elimination of train whistles.

“I think it’s important to keep in mind (whistle cessation) was not the driving force behind it. Continuing this…is more of a community safety concern,” said Creasey.  “It just so happens those two items are so intermingled that while you’re pursuing the safety upgrades to the 2021 standards, you are pretty much by default going to meet the standards for cessation, so that’s an added bonus for some.”

The full report can be read as part of Lacombe city council’s July 8, 2019 agenda package at http://lacombe.ca/home/showdocument?id=12257.

-abarrett@postmedia.com

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