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East Gwillimbury resident calls for silencing of GO train horns

Holland Landing's Joseph Ficker wants town to end mandatory horns at rail crossings
March 9, 2020
Simon Martin

Every morning Holland Landing resident Joseph Ficker wakes up to the same alarm clock, but it’s not on the night table beside his bed. It’s on the tracks outside when the GO train comes chugging through at 5:55 a.m.

Sometimes it’s four blasts, sometimes eight, but it is a noise that Ficker has never become used to. He has lived at his house in Holland Landing near the tracks since 1979. The GO train started going past in 1990.

“I have been working on this since 1990,” Ficker said. With a move to increased trains in recent years, it means the blare of the horns is all the more frequent and at all times. “Some nights there is an evening train at 1:50 a.m.,” he said.

Every time Ficker complains about the matter to council, he hears the same refrain from a vocal crowd. “They say ‘get used to it’ or ‘sell your house if you don’t like it’,” he said. “It’s 110 decibels 30 yards away. It’s the loudness of it.”

For people who say he should get used to it, Ficker said they wouldn’t like it if a car parked out in front of their house and honked continuously at 5 a.m. “People think it is OK if they don’t live there,” he said.     

Over the past six years, Ficker has been trying to get East Gwillimbury to make a case to silence the horns, but his efforts have gained little traction with council. In 2019, East Gwillimbury council said designing and implementing the safety upgrades would cost them $1.5 million.  

Every time Joseph Flicker complains about train horns he says he’s told to “get used to it” or sell his house and move. | Steve Russell/Torstar

“I would be interested to know if the individuals knew that the train track were there when they bought their property,” Ward 3 Coun. Cathy Morton said at a meeting last year. “We have discussed this a number of times over the past couple of years and I just can’t support spending that amount of money.”

Morton also said it is a safety matter and two people have lost their lives on tracks in the Mount Albert area over the years.  

Town staff said there would be no increase to insurance premiums for whistle cessation, but recommended council hold off on the matter because of excessive cost of the move. Council agreed.      

“I’m quite surprised how many people defend train whistles on social media,” Ward 3 Coun. Scott Crone said. “The trains were here before you were. That seems to be the overwhelming opinion.”  

Last month, Markham announced that after more than a decade of effort, it has ended mandatory train horns at 13 rail crossings in the urban part of the city, implementing alternative safety measures instead.

Those new safety measures included maze barriers and extensive signage, in addition to the bells, flashing lights and gates already in place.

Markham went to York Region to ensure regional streets would also be included in the cessation program. The project cost more than $6 million -- the city put in $2.3 million and $3.8 million came from the region.

Markham now joins a host of other cities in the GTA with “whistle cessation” policies, including Toronto, Milton, Mississauga, Oakville, Pickering and Brampton, and at some of the train crossings in places like Newmarket and Whitchurch-Stouffville.  

Municipalities have the option of eliminating whistling at specific crossings by undertaking an extensive and costly eight-step process outlined in Transport Canada’s whistle cessation program. Metrolinx said it works collaboratively with municipalities interested in the process.

Ficker said the Transport Canada requirements for whistle cessation are too onerous on local municipalities and don’t make sense. He said he is reaching out to York-Simcoe MP Scot Davidson and York-Simcoe MPP Caroline Mulroney to see if he can make any inroads at higher level of governments. Until then Ficker will just have to deal with the train horns. “Big cities can afford it, but smaller municipalities simply cannot,” he said. “So basically us residents are out of luck.”