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CTA rolls out guidelines for rail noise complaints

Canada’s transportation regulator is stressing collaboration over confrontation in its new guidelines for settling disputes between railways and communities over noise and vibrations.

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) on Monday released its new guidelines for resolution of such complaints under the Canada Transportation Act.

“Ongoing communication among all involved in railway noise and vibration issues can help develop awareness of the needs and realities of other parties and may help prevent future complaints,” agency CEO Geoffrey Hare said in a release Monday.

To that end, the guidelines specify that “before the agency can investigate a complaint regarding railway noise or vibrations, it must be satisfied that the collaborative measures set out in these guidelines have been exhausted.”

Such measures allow both the complainant and the railway “to have a say in resolving an issue,” the CTA wrote in its guidelines. “A solution in which both parties have had input is more likely to constitute a long-term solution and is one that can often be implemented more effectively and efficiently than a decision rendered through an adjudicative process.”

Complainants should talk to their municipal government about their concerns before raising them with a railway, the CTA said, as the municipality “may have information and expertise that is pertinent to the resolution of the complaint and may wish to become involved in the discussion with the railway company.”

Before the CTA will get involved in a complaint, it expects “direct communication” to have been established between the parties involved, with complainants given thr opportunity to clearly express their concerns and describe the impact of the problem to the railway, while the railway must be “adequately informed” of the situation.

The type of information a railway should have at this stage is outlined in the CTA’s complaint form.

A railway must also respond to a written complaint within 30 days and agree on a date in the following 30 days to meet and discuss resolving the complaint. The parties involved must make “reasonable efforts” to resolve the complaint before it goes to the CTA.

Collaborative measures, the CTA said, are expected to be completed within 60 days of the railway getting a written complaint, unless the parties agree to extend the process.

The CTA noted that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Railway Association of Canada operate a joint website on the topic of resolving such disputes.


The Transportation Act requires that railways shall cause “only such noise and vibration as is reasonable” to load, unload, transport and deliver goods or transfer cars from one railway to the other, but notes that those specifics “do not relieve a railway company from its obligation to cause only such noise or vibration as is reasonable.”

“Reasonableness” is determined on a case-by-case basis and relates to an objective sense of what’s just and proper in a given circumstance, the CTA said. “What is reasonable in some circumstances may not be reasonable in other circumstances.”

The challenge is to carefully balance the concerns of communities with the need for a railway company to maintain efficient and economically viable railway operations, the CTA wrote. “Overall, this balance is inherent in the statutory requirement that the allowable noise or vibration be only that which is reasonable.”

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