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Metrolinx’s noise walls too short to reduce blaring train sounds, say Agincourt residents

Randy MacDougall just wants to quietly enjoy retirement in the Agincourt home he’s lived in for 35 years, but says a wall more than a metre too short for his liking is preventing him from doing that. 

The wall at the end of his yard on Bellefontaine Street was constructed through a Metrolinx contract to block sound from trains on the Stouffville corridor between Finch Ave East and Sheppard Avenue East.

But at 3.8 metres tall, it’s shorter than the height of the train, he says, and is having the opposite of the intended effect. 

“The noise bounces off the far wall and comes back this way,” he said. “For a second storey bedroom, it just bounces and comes back up.”

MacDougall says he and his wife, who are both recovering from health issues, have difficulty dealing with the sounds of engines and bells and trains along the tracks that Metrolinx’s own specifications say the walls were designed to mitigate. 

Randy MacDougall
Resident Randy MacDougall says the sound walls in place don’t absorb the sound, they just reflect it. (Clara Pasieka/CBC)

He’s not alone. 

The Agincourt Village Community Association (AVCA), where MacDougall is vice-president, has been calling on Metrolinx to build higher walls and use sound absorbent instead of sound reflective material to better protect residents from sounds. But while Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster promised last year to conduct a technical review to consider those asks, residents say they feel stonewalled. 

Verster seemed to take the issue to heart after calls from the association, even visiting the backyards of some residents last year.

In a letter dated May 2, 2023 to the AVCA, which CBC has reviewed, Verster told the group the walls had been constructed appropriately at the time to the 2015 standard, and while the standard was updated in 2022, the agency didn’t consider the walls “sub-standard.”

Still, Metrolinx was examining the possibility of raising any noise walls less than four metres in height to five metres where possible, and using absorptive materials in walls instead of reflective walls for any new pieces of wall, he said.

Metrolinx considers matter ‘closed’

But on March 7, 2024, the group received a letter from a Metrolinx representative saying their walls, though not constructed to the 2022 standard, met the Crown corporations noise mitigation targets for the area.

“We consider this matter closed,” the letter said. 

Randy measures wall
MacDougall measured the walls at the foot of his property and found they were less than 4 metres high. (Submitted by Randy MacDougall)

CBC News asked Metrolinx whether their rules say sound barriers should be five metres, why some noise walls appear to perform better than others in the area and why the matter is being closed. Metrolinx did not directly answer all of CBC’s questions.

A spokesperson for Metrolinx said that there are “many types of noises walls used throughout the GO Transit network” and “the Agincourt noise walls were designed for their specific location.” Metrolinx takes community concerns seriously and conducted a technical review of the existing walls to ensure they were properly designed and constructed to mitigate noise, the statement said. 

The answer isn’t sitting well with residents.

Agincourt Village Community Association Executive members say they want Metrolinx to build better noise walls. The transit agency says it considers the matter ‘closed.’ (Clara Pasieka/CBC)

Elli Cristea, whose home is a few blocks from MacDougall’s on Huntingwood Drive, next to the tracks, is frustrated be the inaction of the crown corporation to deal with the situation.

“The sound shakes you to the core,” she said. “In my backyard, when you’re out there and you’re talking to somebody, you literally have to stop to let them go by before you can start a conversation again.”

She describes frequently waking up in the night when trains go by. 

Environmental sounds could have health impacts: expert

Tor Oiamo, a professor at Toronto Metropolitan University specializing in noise and environmental health, says what the residents are experiencing may be more than just “annoying”.

He says research around the world suggests strong evidence for negative health effects from noise adjacent to your home. 

“They’re pretty significant,” he said. “We’re talking about our heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and downstream, metabolic diseases.”

obviously diff textures and heights walls metrolinx
Textures and heights of noise walls near Agincourt GO are noticeably different from one another. (Clara Pasieka/CBC)

Oiama said he’d need to look at the data in this specific case, but that being able to see the source of the noise can signal a potential issue.

“If you can directly see the source from your bedroom window, that’s one of the biggest problems,” he said, referring to the concerns many had about the heights of the walls. 

For now, the association fears as transit frequency improves for commuters, things will get worse for them unless Metrolinx builds them a better wall.

The association’s president, Rhoda Potter emphasizes the group is not against trains in the area, but says they shouldn’t need to come at this cost to residents.

“We’re asking for the noise walls to be fixed,” she said. “We deserve that.”

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