Not quite a Gord Lightfoot trilogy of course.

A couple of things popped up in the last few days that stimulated this post.


Yesterday evening was quiet around my house, certainly in the backyard. The heat and humidity lifted and there was blessed silence. Why the silence? It appears that a truck ran into the trestle on William Street possibly causing damage and necessitating a stop of operations on the CN Line that runs behind our house.

Why did the truck hit the trestle? It clearly was an issue of human error. Was it avoidable? In my opinion quite possibly. A couple of years ago I was sitting at an open house in the Town of Parry Sound town hall and had a discussion with a couple of members of Council and Staff about the William Street trestle. I told them that I had gone out with a tape measure and measured the height of the trestle and the height of the frames that sit about 5 metres in front of the trestle on both sides. The yellow and black striped frames were at least a foot taller than the trestle. That might allow a ‘rookie’ truck operator who was unsure of the height of their vehicle to assume that if they were able to get under the frame that they would fit under the trestle. The driver would not only be wrong I suggested; they might even be deceived by these frames.

During the discussion at town hall I suggested the town suspend a swinging bar or chains at the same height as the trestle or even a little lower. My thinking was that a driver who approached the trestle and heard/felt the top of the vehicle strike something would hit the brakes and either stop before hitting the trestle or at least hit it with much less force.

My idea was not original. I have been to enough parking garages to have seen the signs that tell me the maximum height inside but also have some sort of structure at the entrance that prevents vehicles from entering that exceed the lowest height in the parking garage. The folks that run these garages don’t want to be pulling cars that are stuck on the third floor.

The Councillor thought that this was a good idea. The Staff member disagreed. He suggested that there might be a Town liability if a vehicle was damaged by this hanging bar or chains. Would there be a liability if they hit the current structure? How much damage might be caused by hanging chains? Jeez – “You can’t tell a Heinz pickle nothing”. I will note that this individual was also against crossing arms at the Cascade Street crossing when the Railway Safety Committee I participated on made the suggestion. He said people would just go around them. Thank goodness Council did not agree. One life lost is too many.

We all make errors of inattention, young, old and especially impaired. I think it behooves us as a community to help people make the right decisions when we know there is a serious risk involved.

Lac Megantic

You have forgotten about it haven’t you? Well the New York Times published an article a couple of days ago about the accident and what has followed in the years since. It’s worth reading and understanding the risks we all face. What would happen if a larger truck were to barrel under the William Street trestle while one of the ‘oilers’ was running across?

Here is a link to the article at the New York Times. If you can’t access it at their site, I have posted a copy here. (Note: PDF reader required.) I have a subscription to the Times and feel this article needs to be shared. A New York Times online subscription can be had for $4 CDN per month; cheaper than the North Star.

Train Noise

In an earlier post I had expressed my position that chasing the railways about the non-airhorn noises was a fool’s errand. I’ll expand on this. The engines do not squeal, they make lots of noise related to the propulsion system, but that’s it. They pass quickly. In contrast it is the rail cars that squeal. Not all of them, perhaps one in ten. You can hear the squealers coming down the track. So, it’s not a consistent noise like airhorns. Figuring out which rail cars are squealing would be a challenge. No company wants the bother and expense of fixing all of them for a non-safety issue.

The real reason this is not an issue that can be easily addressed is because – the railways don’t own the railcars in most cases. The railways transport the railcars, but they don’t own them. They may own some of the container carriers, but they rarely own the oil and chemical cars, or the potash cars, or the grain cars. These railcars are probably not even owned by the companies whose goods are being transported but rather by leasing companies. No business except a financial services company wants to have that much capital invested in rolling or flying stock.

I hope Council will get Staff to do the bare minimum work necessary to convince themselves that attacking the squeal of the railcars is a waste of time and energy. You will end up chasing a dozen or more companies. Time is better spent on things under their control, like preventing crashes into the trestle on William Street, or stopping airhorns in Parry Sound.