Last month, a familiar sound was silenced in White Rock, B.C. On January 29th
, trains travelling through the seaside town south of Vancouver stopped sounding their whistles when passing the city’s eight railway crossings. Like several other communities, the city successfully applied to Transport Canada for “whistle cessation.” But in doing so, they’ve removed one of the key tools that railways have to keep residents safe.
“A locomotive whistle is an important safety device that serves as the last warning that a train is coming along the track,” says Cynthia Lulham, the former project manager for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ and Railway Association of Canada’s Proximity Initiative for more than 13 years. “People think they’re going to hear trains. But you can be standing a few feet from the train and not hear it, because sound travels in strange ways.”
Eliminating train whistles in a community with a tragic past
White Rock has been the scene of several tragic incidents in recent years. In July 2013, a White Rock woman
was struck and killed by a train while jogging. She was crossing the tracks at a designated pedestrian crossing, but looked to her right when a train was coming from the left.
Just this past summer, a 58-year-old man was seriously injured when he was hit by a train
in White Rock while trying to rescue his two dogs. They had run onto the tracks just as he saw the train approaching. Without train whistles, the chances of tragic incidents like these occurring will only increase.
“Whistling cessation places an even greater onus on the public to stay off the tracks and to obey signs and signals at crossings,” explains Sarah Mayes, National Director of Operation Lifesaver Canada. “Trains can’t stop on a dime or swerve to avoid hitting people. Silencing the whistles may offer more peace and quiet for residents, but it’s also removing a safety feature designed to save lives.”
Make knowing—and following—the rail safety rules a priority
Remember, trains can be remarkably quiet and may be moving more quickly than they appear to be. Follow these simple rules to stay safe—especially if you live in a community with whistle cessation:
- Don't bike, jog or walk on or along railway tracks—and never use them as a shortcut
- Only cross tracks at designated crossings
- Don’t go around lowered gates at railway crossings
- Keep your dog on leash at all times around railway property
- Put your phone down when driving, and when approaching rail crossings on foot, by bike or in a mobility device
- When wearing headphones, keep one ear out near railway crossings
- Obey all railway signs and signals
Please share these and other rail safety tips
with your friends and family—it could save a life.