Whistle ban too risky: Brassard

“We are putting the city, and we have been told this all along, at financial risk and financial liability by stopping the GO Train whistles.”

The jarring early-morning blast of a GO Train whistle that’s an unwelcome wake-up call for many Barrie residents is a quality-of-life concern, agrees Ward 7 councillor John Brassard.

Ward 7 councillor John Brassard

But it’s not enough of a concern to justify the liability and safety risks to the city that come with the silencing of the whistles, he says.
“There’s certainly an argument to be made around quality of life, but the fact is that safety, first and foremost, is paramount. Secondly, the liability issue is really the key. That’s where the needs of the many really outweigh the needs of the few.”
It’s no surprise that Brassard voted against the June 27 general-committee motion to ban the whistle. His opposition has been consistent, ever since councillors Alex Nutall and Andrew Prince first raised the issue, in response to complaints from residents in their wards, in late 2008.
“I argued against it at the time; I thought it was a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, and I thought we might have had the expertise in-house rather than hiring a consultant to do it.”
The majority of council voted in favour of the study.
“And even when that whistle study came down, there was a staff recommendation … that said, ‘don’t do it, it’s not worth the risk.’”
Related costs, says Brassard, now stand at about $200,000. They include the initial $10,000 for the study, more than $100,000 for sightline clearances, mostly in the St. Paul’s area, and about $80,000 for pedestrian safety barriers that will be needed at city crossings.
There will also be ongoing costs related to maintaining the gates at the crossings, says Brassard.
“The price hasn’t ended yet. It’s going to continue going forward.”
According to a memorandum (see page nine) from the city’s operations department to general committee, 11 Ontario communities have whistle bans in place. While the note identified some “claims associated with anti-whistling,” it says there isn’t enough information to determine the relationship between the claims and the whistle issue.
While he is sympathetic to the concerns of residents annoyed by the early-morning whistles, Brassard says the risks to the city are just too great to ignore.
“We are putting the city, and we have been told this all along, at financial risk and financial liability by stopping the GO Train whistles.”
It’s a risk, he says, that will only increase when the second train station opens in Allandale. Right now, the trains “rumble” through the crossings at about 10 k-ph, he says, but when the second station is operational, the speed will increase.
“When they start from the second GO Train station … and they are on a set schedule, they won’t be coming through those intersections at 10 k-ph. They’ll be coming through at 40 or 50 k-ph, and there’s going to be less time for not only people to react, but also less time for the train engineer to react.”
He says the argument essentially comes down to four train whistles a day, in the morning, because no one is complaining about the (later) whistles.
“Is the cost to the city, both financial and from a safety and liability standpoint, worth the risk? In my view, it is not.”
Councillors, he says, are sworn to protect the city from any and all liability, and he wonders why council is moving in a direction that could place the city in risky territory.
“All along this process we have been told we are going to be placing the city in a position of liability. Why else would Metrolinx (the agency that runs the trains) want us to execute an agreement with them that assumes all risk to the City of Barrie?
Brassard says he’s not just talking about incidents involving cars or pedestrians.
“If as a result of an incident a train gets derailed, then the city will pick up that tab. The other thing that we are required to have is $100,000 deductible. So regardless of the incident, it’s going to cost us $100,000 from an insurance standpoint.”
The city, he acknowledges, does assumes liability on lots of things, including recreational services.
“But when you are told, ‘don’t do it, it’s not worth the risk,’ and you still do it, then there is something to be said about the decision making process at that point. It’s a wrong decision, on all fronts.”

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