The “North Van Port & Rail Expansion Project”, aka the Low Level Road Improvement Project (LLRIP), has been marketed to local residents as a project that will benefit the community in many ways. Examples include reduced rail noise such as train whistling and shunting, improved road safety, reduced traffic congestion, improved emergency response capabilities, improved slope stability, improved bike lanes, new pedestrian sidewalks, etc.
The missing elements to this marketing campaign are the statement of benefits to the Port and its partners including CN Rail. The presentation boards and glossy brochures merely state that the project “will enhance rail and port operations” and the only reference to port expansion is the statement: “Provision for two new rail tracks by re-aligning the existing Low Level Road, to improve trade efficiency and reduce noise from rail car switching by facilitating the use of longer trains”.
North Shore Trade Area Study
Recent project materials provide little information on the location of these two new rail tracks. More information can be found in the North Shore Trade Area Study (NTSA) Final Report issued on September 30, 2008. This study was initiated in October 2006 as part of the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative (APGCI) and examines the transportation infrastructure changes that need to be undertaken in order to enable and support the anticipated growth in trade in the coming years.
The report provides details on key components of the LLRIP including: Low Level Road Re-alignment, St. Andrews Avenue Grade Separation, Neptune/Cargill Grade Separation, and other projects.
It identifies the specific location of the two new rail tracks as part of planned rail expansion: “Low Level Road Re-alignment: to accommodate the additional two rail tracks identified in the Rail Network Concept along the existing Low Level Road between St Patricks Avenue and the Neptune terminal, the existing two-lane road would need to be re-aligned to the north and elevated” … “The additional two tracks are essential to improve the rail operations and to enable rail expansion for all port terminals on the North Shore.” See page 55 of the PDF file. The report contains a diagram showing a cross-section of the Low Level Road with the two new tracks. It does not provide a map or any further details on the start and end of these two new tracks. It should be noted that such a diagram was omitted from the materials given to the public during the marketing campaign. Is this design still accurate or have the two new tracks been moved elsewhere in the design as it has been refined over the the last 3 years?
The NTSA Final Report identifies the benefits of each of these projects:
“Low Level Road Realignment: The primary benefit of this improvement concept is to rail operations as this is the narrowest part of the rail corridor next to the JRI and Cargill terminals. The existing 2- lane road is realigned further to the north to allow for the addition of the 2 proposed rail tracks.” … “The separated road and rail facility would also improve both road safety and port security.” See pages 68-69 of the PDF file.
“St. Andrews and Neptune/Cargill Grade Separations: Grade separation returns moderate road user benefits associated with reduced delay at the existing at-grade crossings. The primary benefits are to rail operations. These level crossings are often blocked by through train and train switching movements, resulting in standing rail cars for most of the day if proposed yard and mainline expansions proceed. Grade separation at these locations will be an integral part of the rail expansion on the North Shore. The grade separation would also provide safe and efficient road access into the port terminals and waterfront industries without waiting at the rail crossings.” … “Port security can be enhanced by grade separation of rail and road corridors and by consolidating multiple road accesses into a single point.” See pages 68-69 of the PDF file.
What is the Design of this Project?
The preliminary design of the key components of the LLRIP outlined in the NTSA report has continued to evolve and change. Recent proposed changes include one suggested by the City of North Vancouver (CNV) to eliminate the St. Patrick’s overpass and direct traffic to use the existing St. George’s road. This proposed change is in response to concerns voiced by local residents. However, the complete design of the project including changes to both the Port and the community is not known at this time. Full disclosure and transparency of the design is essential to better understand the full ramifications of this project.
What is the Impact to the Community?
Local residents have expressed a wide range of concerns over this project including potential increases to road and rail noise levels and quality of life issues if the LLRIP proceeds.
Increasing Port and rail capacity appears to be the overall purpose of this project. Two new rail tracks are being added to the rail yard in anticipation of increased rail freight volumes. PMV has stated that longer trains and two new rail tracks will reduce rail noise such as shunting cars to build trains. Local residents are skeptical of this explanation. If the objective of this project is to increase Port capacity and freight volumes then this implies that there will be more rail cars than before. Will more rail cars and longer trains negate the benefits of adding two additional rail tracks?
Further, what is the impact of the two new tracks and more freight now, and into the future, to the already affected Norgate community?
How will North Shore residents be protected from noise pollution as the Port and rail corridor continue to expand over time? Our answer may be addressed in the following report …
Proximity of Rail Facilities to Residences
The Railway Association of Canada (RAC) and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) jointly published a study and issued guidelines in 2007 to specifically address the potential conflicts that can arise from proximity issues resulting from rail and/or residential development. It should be noted that CN Rail is a member of the RAC and the City of North Vancouver is a member of the FCM. The final report issued in 2007 is entitled the “Proximity Guidelines and Best Practices” available on the Proximity Issues website.
The report identifies that “Rail/municipal proximity issues typically occur in three principle situations: land development near rail operations; new or expanded rail facilities; and/or road/rail crossings.” See page 7 of the PDF file.
Section 1.2 of this report identifies its many purposes. A key purpose is “Inform and influence railway and municipal planning practices and procedures; to provide for planning systems and approvals that more effectively anticipate and manage proximity conflicts and to better facilitate municipal and railway growth”. See page 8 of the PDF file.
The report provides many recommendations to mitigate conflicts between rail facilities and nearby residences. Examples of these recommendations that are pertinent here include:
(1) “Recommended minimum noise influence areas to be considered for each type of rail facility when undertaking noise studies: Freight Rail Yards 1,000 m, Mainline Rail Corridors 300 m.” See page 11.
(2) “Recommended Noise Criteria New Residential or other Sensitive Land Uses in Proximity to Rail Corridors”. See page 26. Examples of the sound level limits specified are:
- Bedrooms, etc. should not exceed 35 dba from 2300 to 0700 hrs.
- Living/dining rooms, etc. should not exceed 40 dba from 0700 to 2300 hrs.
- Outdoor living areas should not exceed 55 dba 0700 to 2300 hrs.
- Outside bedroom windows and sleeping quarters should not exceed 50 dba from 2300 to 0700 hrs.
- Outside living/dining room windows should not exceed 55 dba from 0700 to 2300 hrs.
Adherence to RAC / FCM Recommendations
The “Proximity Guidelines and Best Practices” are just that: guidelines. However, the fact that they exist indicates that there is an acknowledgement of the problem of new rail development and/or rail expansion in proximity to local residences, and/or development of new residences to existing rail facilities.
Will the project’s noise mitigation approach adhere to the recommendations defined in these proximity guidelines?
Are noise mitigation measures a condition for approval of this project? Noise limits should be defined quantitatively so that they can be measured before and after the project is completed. The current noise level from train whistles can exceed 90 dba, a value which far exceeds the recommendations set forth in this guide.
If the noise levels (after the project is completed) exceed the predefined limits then what is the plan to mitigate the noise? Who will pay for noise mitigation measures after project completion if such measures are needed? PMV and/or CN Rail? Is approval of this project subject to these conditions?
The next North Vancouver City Council Meeting is on Monday, June 13th and will include 2 delegations: a group of local concerned residents, and Port Metro Vancouver. A motion will be put before Council to vote on regarding this project. The City has stated that they do support this project but not unconditionally. The City must balance the needs of the local community, the growing industry, and improvements to local infrastructure as part of this project that the City would otherwise be unable to complete without federal and industry funding. See the Council Agenda on the CNV website.