'Incessant delays' prevent silencing of train horns in Markham

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A new midnight train with horns blowing through Markham last week was a rude awakening in more ways than one for area residents, who fear the city’s $6-million whistle cessation project is going off the rails.

“We were assured that no additional trains would be implemented until all crossings were silenced,” said Shanta Sundarason, founder of the Stop the Horns advocacy group on the heels of the addition of a 12:08 a.m. late-night train on the Stouffville GO line.

“To have horns blasting their way through Markham at midnight is absurd to say the least, but residents are absolutely fed up with the incessant delays and the consistently broken promises.”

To date, only seven of the 16 rail crossings have the required safety upgrades and inspections to implement the stoppage. That includes crossings at Eureka Street, Main Street Unionville, Kennedy Road North, Snider Drive, Main Street Markham, Castlemore Avenue and Major Mackenzie Drive.

Crossings at McCowan Road, 16th Avenue, Bur Oak Avenue, Kennedy Road South and Hwy. 7 are complete but await Metrolinx approval for implementation, according to the city.

The Denison Street crossing is “nearly complete” and will be ready for inspection in the coming weeks.

Sundarason and her group want clarity as to when, as well as if the three other crossings in the northern "rural" part of Markham are on track for completion and have a more specific end date.

“The mayor promised the residents in a council meeting about two years ago that he would personally ensure that there were no delays, that he would be on top of this project and that he would be at the end of a letter or telephone to chase this along so the project is completed in a timely manner,” said Sundarason.

Frustrated with the lack of progress, she blasted officials in an email to Mayor Frank Scarpitti and councillors for repeated excuses, inaction, broken promises and welcoming all-day trains with open arms without any consideration whatsoever to the impact that the noise would have on citizens.

In an email response, Scarpitti said while the city is in daily communication with Metrolinx to look at all options to expedite the project, public safety would not be jeopardized by rushing approvals or implementation of the crossings.

“A project of this magnitude — a first of its kind in the GTA — must be done correctly and any deficiency to the crossing will be inspected, corrected and tested before any implementation is to take place. I will not sacrifice public safety to silence a horn — nor will Metrolinx.”

He added his request to Metrolinx to delay the additional service until the remaining crossings were complete was denied since “such a change would need months to implement and it is not in the best interests of their customers.”

Delays that blew the November 2018 completion date off track were attributed to issues outside the city’s control, such as construction deficiencies, design modifications and the ability to secure necessary flagging to work within the rail corridor.

“This is a complex, specialized, multi-jurisdictional project requiring different levels of approvals at different stages of design and construction, and a high level of co-ordination between the various parties,” Scarpitti said, adding original timelines were based on up-to-date information at the time.

But that doesn’t cut it with Sundarason, who said the responsibility for the construction of the safety measures rests with the city.

“If the city cannot even get their acts together to ensure they have the proper consultants in place and then the proper construction contractors to carry out these works in timely fashion, then we have the wrong people in the city. We completely understand delays of a couple of months due to weather and other unknown factors, but nearly two years?”