Residents in the northwest Edmonton area of Dunvegan are so fed up with unrelenting noise from a nearby rail yard that some are considering selling their homes in order to get some peace and quiet.
Bob Watt bought his home backing onto the CN Rail tracks 26 years ago. He said back then, CN’s Dunvegan Yard was quiet — it was a holding yard near St. Albert Trail, near the much larger Walker Yard that runs parallel to the Yellowhead in central Edmonton.
Over the years, the yard has changed: at one point, rail cars were being stored on-site and stacked on top of one another. A noisy operation, but one that only happened during the day.
“Within the last couple of years, it’s been turned into a training facility for CN and there’s noise all hours of the day. Banging, whistle blowing, bells ringing,” Watt explained.
He said the sound has become pretty unbearable: “Not getting a good night’s sleep. It’s been pretty tough.”
Watt has a ladder propped up against his fence, so he can climb up and see what’s going on when the noise gets really bad and keeps him awake.
“You’re going to work the next day really tired and it also starts playing on your mental health,” he explained.
Watt is not alone — a number of his neighbours have expressed concerns. Seven years ago, Paul Nicholson and his wife purchased their home in the area — which is part of the Athlone neighbourhood.
They liked the regular sound of the trains passing by — initially. But now, the noises are different, preventing the family from getting a decent night’s rest.
“It goes on midnight, 1 a.m. up to 5 a.m., so you can’t even sleep here. Kids wake up all hours of the night too, terrified,” he said. “It’s just been a nightmare, really.”
The Nicholsons work for the Canadian Armed Forces and say the sounds remind them of work.
“It’s basically like an artillery strike, in our neighbourhood.”
The family said the vibrations from the booms shake their house and have even knocked pictures off the walls. They’re at their wits’ end and don’t know what to do.
The City of Edmonton’s community standards bylaw regulates noise that results in disturbance of the peace. When it comes to overnight noise in non-residential areas after 10 p.m. or before 7 a.m., it must be kept below 60 decibels. Nicholson said he and his neighbours went so far as to measure the sound coming from the train yard.
“They’re supposed to keep the sound down to 60 decibels. We’ve had it measured and it’s well in excess of 105 decibels.”
The noise has become so bad, they’re considering moving.
“It sucks, it’s not really a good market to sell right now, but our hands are tied.
“We don’t really know what else to do.”
Both families reached out to CN with their concerns.
“Every time we get in contact with them, they just tell us, ‘sorry, there’s nothing we can do. We’re going to keep training and that’s all there is to it,'” Nicholson said.
Watt called the company disrespectful: “They’ve been very unresponsive to our concerns.”
Many residents have also reached out to their city councillor, Bev Esslinger.
“When I reached out to CN, they reminded me that this was regulated at the federal level, not at the municipal level,” Esslinger said.
“I asked if they would consider removing the 11-8 or 11-7 shift so at least then people could sleep,” she said. In response, she said CN told her they have no intentions of changing their schedules.
“I feel bad, I wish we could stop this.”
“Your heart goes out to these folks because it impacts your daily life if you do not have a good night’s sleep.”
CN declined an interview, but in a statement to Global News said: “Safety is a core value at CN and it is critical that our new conductors receive training that emulates their future job conditions and training during nighttime hours is an important part of that.”
It went on to say the Dunvegan Yard is the only place appropriate for training new conductors.
“The recent economic recovery has created the need for us to resume our training sessions at a level that includes a night shift being added to the rotation.”
CN said it is sensitive to the fact the yard is so close to a residential area.
“The trainers, when possible, will run their training activities primarily at the north end of the yard, where local residents are set back farther from CN property.”
The company went on to apologize for the inconvenience.
It’s not good enough, say Dunvegan residents.
“The bylaws don’t affect them. They can do whatever they want, and it’s wrong. That’s got to get changed,” Watt said.