Will a sound barrier fix the problem?

Letter to the Editor of the Montreal Gazette.

The City of Westmount, with financial support from the province, is erecting a section of transparent sound barrier (Gazette 2006-4-24, “Innovative barrier keeps view intact”, page A7) at the foot of Abbott avenue as a pilot project. If effective at significantly reducing noise from the CP Rail tracks and the Ville Marie Expressway, and if not too much of an eyesore and graffiti magnet, a 1.6 km barrier will be erected.

Unfortunately, this barrier will do nothing to reduce the vibration that is transmitted through the ground from the rail line to the foundations of nearby houses, some historically significant, where it can cause structural damage and psychological stress to occupants. The “deafening clickety-clack” mentioned in the article is caused by the pounding of steel train wheels hitting the next section of rail after passing over a gap, every 40 feet or so, in what is known as jointed track.

But it doesn’t have to be so. Almost the entire length of track used by the Dorion-Rigaud commuter train in the west island, except for the section between downtown and Montreal West, was upgraded about 20 years ago to use modern rails without these gaps. As a result, trains can run at high speed without either the clickety-clack or the pounding.

Upgrading the downtown section of track would eliminate most of the train noise, and do away with the vibration, something which sound barriers cannot do. Why hasn’t this section of track been upgraded? Are the residents of Montreal and of Westmount who live near the tracks second-class citizens, less worthy than their West Island counterparts?

CP Rail, who owns the track, seems content to do nothing. After all, no freight trains use the section east of the Montreal West station, and faster train speeds that an upgraded track would permit are prevented by speed limits (imposed, ironically, to control noise and vibration!). The other major player, Agence m√©tropolitaine de transport (AMT) who leases the track and pays CP Rail to operate the commuter trains, seems to feel that it’s not their problem.

Compounding the problem is the terrible condition of the track roadbed, allowing the track to flex up and down with the passing of even lightweight commuter trains. This adds to noise and vibration. Again, neither CP Rail nor AMT seem motivated to move on this issue.

If the track roadbed were adequately repaired and the jointed track replaced with continuous welded rail, the noise reduction would make a sound barrier unnecessary, saving taxpayers upwards of $12 million. In addition, the air quality of residents in lower Westmount would be preserved, as a 1.6 km barrier will block the breeze through the area.

It’s time that our governments force CP Rail and AMT to fix the problem. Failing official action, citizens in Montreal and Westmount may need to launch a class action lawsuit.

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