Decision No. 95-R-2000

February 10, 2000

February 10, 2000

IN THE MATTER OF a complaint filed by Mr. Eugenio Pagnotta, pursuant to section 95 of the Canada Transportation Act, S.C., 1996, c. 10, concerning noise, vibrations and air pollution emanating from Algoma Central Railway Inc.'s Steelton Yard.

File No. R 8030/S9


On November 6, 1998, Eugenio Pagnotta (hereinafter the complainant) filed a complaint on behalf of himself and other residents of the Steelton area with the Canadian Transportation Agency (hereinafter the Agency) regarding the noise, vibrations and diesel emissions coming from the Steelton Rail Yard near Hudson Street, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The diesel emissions emanated primarily from engines 1567 and 1552. At that time, the complainant believed that Wisconsin Central Ltd. operated the rail yard.

On January 15, 1999, Algoma Central Railway Inc. (hereinafter ACRI) wrote to the Agency advising that it is the appropriate entity to respond to the complaint.

In an attempt to resolve the matter, the Agency issued two sets of interrogatories during the period from March 1999 to September 1999 and two site meetings were held on June 28 and September 13, 1999. The complainant, other neighbours, railway representatives and Agency staff were present at those meetings.

Pursuant to subsection 29(1) of the Canada Transportation Act (hereinafter the CTA), the Agency is required to make its decision no later than 120 days after an application is received unless the parties agree to an extension. In this case, the parties agreed to an extension of the deadline to February 10, 2000.


The issue to be determined is whether ACRI, in the exercise of its powers, has done as little damage as possible as provided for in subsection 95(2) of the CTA, and if not, what action should be taken by the Agency, if any.


ACRI's Steelton Yard is located near homes on Hudson Street, in Sault Ste Marie. The Yard operations consist of:

  • arriving and departing trains;
  • switching cars for train make-up;
  • servicing customers' yards; and
  • servicing mechanical shops.

These activities are carried out 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the exception of Christmas Day, when the railway company shuts down its operations for approximately 24 hours.

The Yard begins at the lead tracks just south of Conmee Avenue, continues south, parallel to Hudson Street, and diverges, at Wellington Street, into the main body of the Yard. All traffic coming from the north and interchanging with the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (hereinafter ONTC), the Canadian National Railway Company (hereinafter CN) and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (hereinafter CP) is funnelled through this area. As well, all traffic originating in the Steelton Yard and destined north is also funnelled through these leads. The westerly most tracks at Wellington Street are owned and operated by Algoma Steel Inc. All activity on those tracks is performed using an Algoma Steel Inc. shunter over which ACRI has no control. ACRI simply moves rail cars onto Algoma Steel Inc. trackage and removes them once they are loaded.

ACRI shunts cars on the tracks opposite the complainant's home on Hudson Street to service Algoma Steel Inc. and to make up trains. Switching is performed from the north side of the Yard as there is no access to the tracks of Algoma Steel Inc. from the south. Further, ACRI would block a number of grade crossings.

With respect to making up outbound trains or sorting inbound trains, ACRI performs that work using a shunter which is either manned or remote-controlled. The shunter makes an average of 12 trips per train past Wellington Street/Lyons Avenue. The maximum length of time the shunter waits between Wellington Street and Conmee Avenue is 20 seconds, although the average is 12 seconds. At any one time, the shunter moves a maximum of 20 cars. When pulling or pushing cars, the maximum speed of the shunter is 8 miles per hour and the power setting is number 8 throttle.

The needs of other connecting lines impose constraints on car switching. In Ontario, ACRI interchanges with CN at Oba, CP at Franz, ONTC at Hearst, and with Huron Central Railway at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and Wisconsin Central Ltd. at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Switching is based on a timetable which enables connections with those railways in order to deliver cars in a timely fashion to anywhere in Canada, the United States of America and Mexico.


ACRI states that activities opposite the complainant's residence are no different than the activities which have taken place for many years. ACRI points out that, in fact, Yard activities would not have changed substantially from when Mr. Pagnotta purchased his house in 1962.

ACRI claims that the activities carried out in this railway Yard are typical of those carried out in other railway yards in Canada. The timely make-up of a train and/or the on-time delivery of cars to ACRI customers is probably the most important function of the railway business. The customers expect to have their tracks serviced as soon as requested or on a 24-hour per day basis.

The tracks north of Wellington Street and parallel to Hudson Street are an integral part of the Steelton Yard. These tracks permit ACRI to shunt the cars into and out of Algoma Steel Inc. and to assemble train consists. Any noise emanating from the Yard is a result of this activity. Since the transfer of the rail operations from Algoma Central Railway to ACRI, train operations in the Steelton Yard have remained virtually the same.

Regarding excessive emissions from locomotives 1567 and 1552, ACRI advises that they are inspected on a daily basis in accordance with Transport Canada Regulations (Locomotive Safety Rules). The locomotives function properly and their exhaust systems are cleaned regularly to keep emissions to a minimum. Any exhaust emissions or noise emissions from these locomotives is typical of properly maintained machinery of this type.

In response to noise complaints, ACRI purchased a sound level meter to take sound level readings during switching operations in the vicinity of the complainant's home. That instrument meets the requirements of the American National Standards Institute. ACRI took random readings during the day and during a normal yard switching operation which consisted of shunting of two to three minutes in duration. ACRI claims that the readings indicate that the sound level in front of the Pagnotta home is well within the sound level requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario for noise exposure level for an 8-hour working day without hearing protection.

ACRI admitted that in 1997, some old railway cars in the yard opposite the complainant's home were dismantled for scrap. This was a one-time activity and it is not expected to be repeated at that location in the foreseeable future. ACRI also advises that there was some log reloading activity by customers opposite the complainant's home.

Given the configuration of the track and the restrictions with respect to its property, ACRI claims that there is nothing it that can do to reduce the shunting and train activity in the rail yard opposite the complainant's residence. ACRI crews switch cars in accordance with Canadian Rail Operating Rules. ACRI claims that safe shunting operations translate into less noise.

ACRI states that as a result of a meeting on May 26, 1999 between the railway company's officials and Mr. Pagnotta, ACRI agreed to undertake the following:

  • replace the cast iron brake shoes on the shunter with low friction brake shoes to reduce squealing;
  • cut up scrap cars, if any, in an area away from Mr. Pagnotta's home;
  • remove debris from the rail yard across from Mr. Pagnotta's home and clean up the area;
  • park three rail coaches indefinitely on the unused Spur No. 590 to act as a sound barrier and continually monitor its effectiveness;
  • reduce sound emissions resulting from the shunting and switching operations, provide information sessions to employees instructing them on ACRI's obligations under the CTA and minimize noise during the shunting of rail cars.

In addition, ACRI contends that there are no other alternatives available to minimize noise and air pollution emanating from the yard directly opposite the complainant's home, except to continue to instruct employees of their obligation not to cause unnecessary noise and air pollution. ACRI points out that the minimization of sound levels and air emissions is a direct consequence of proper shunting procedures carried out by the railway company crews and failure to follow such proper procedures results in disciplinary action against the employee.

In response to ACRI's submissions, Mr. Pagnotta states that the rail operations have changed opposite the Hudson Street homes. Mr. Pagnotta believes ACRI's statement to be incorrect. He suggests that a representative of ACRI reside in his home for a week and experience and endure what residents on Hudson Street are enduring on a daily basis at all hours of the night. He filed video tapes showing railway activity and occurrences of noise and diesel emissions. He points out that the yard was also used to load logs and as a scrapyard for an indefinite period of time, without concern for the surrounding area.

With respect to the sound study performed by Stantec Engineering Ltd., Mr. Pagnotta advises that ACRI's operations during sound data collection were almost at a standstill.


Following considerable correspondence and various meetings, Agency staff held a follow-up meeting on September 13, 1999 and the parties were able to reach an agreement on a process to resolve the complaint.

The agreement reached by the parties addresses the following issues:

  • clean-up of debris;
  • log reloading;
  • car demolition;
  • bell ringing; and
  • idling locomotives.

In addition, the parties also agreed to a process whereby ACRI will establish and operate a telephone complaint line to document and address complaints received regarding locomotive emissions and noise from shunting and idling locomotives.

The parties filed a signed agreement with the Agency and asked that this agreement be treated as privileged and confidential.


The Agency notes the efforts made by the parties to resolve the complaint and acknowledges the agreement filed with the Agency. In light of the terms of the agreement, the Agency will maintain it on file in a confidential manner.

With the implementation of ACRI's commitments as detailed in the agreement, the Agency determines that ACRI will have met its obligations under subsection 95(2) of the CTA, that is to do as little damage as possible in the exercise of its powers. Therefore, the Agency will not require any action at this time beyond that already committed to or undertaken by ACRI.

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