Ottawa

'Like a CF-18 fighter jet': LRT noise disturbing condo dwellers

The city promised 'quieter neighbourhoods' with the arrival of the electric-powered Confederation Line. But some residents of the Mechanicsville neighbourhood say the noise from the light rail trains is forcing them indoors and keeping them up at night.

Promise of 'quieter neighbourhoods' hasn't come to pass for some residents near Confederation Line

The Confederation Line trains pass through an open trench as they travel between Tunney's Pasture and Bayview stations. This is the view from a balcony at 215 Parkdale Ave. (CBC)

"Quieter neighbourhoods."

That's one of the promises the City of Ottawa made about its new $2.1-billion light rail system.

The electric-powered trains would be "significantly quieter than diesel-powered buses" and offer "ultra quiet operation both inside and out," the city pledged.

You have to stop talking because you don't understand one another.- Jane Taylor, 215 Parkdale Ave. resident

But for one neighbourhood along the Confederation Line, the arrival of light rail has been anything but quiet.

"It sounds like a CF-18 fighter jet," said Ghassan Hammouri, who lives on the 14th floor of 215 Parkdale Ave., a condo building perched on the northern edge of the LRT trench, just east of Tunney's Pasture station.

Indeed, with the windows open, a passing train sounds more like a passing plane. The noise rises gradually to a deafening peak that makes normal conversation, concentrating on a task or even hearing the television all but impossible, residents say.

Jane Taylor likes to enjoy a morning coffee on her balcony with her dog by her side, but says the train noise has disturbed that ritual. (CBC)

"I didn't envisage that it would be so loud," said Jane Taylor, who moved into the building two years ago.

Taylor has lived by the light rail track in Edmonton, so she doesn't have a problem with urban noises in general. But when the train goes by here, "you have to stop talking because you don't understand one another," she said.

She likes to have breakfast on her balcony with her dog, Rosie, but the trains currently undergoing intensive testing have been a rude interruption.

"Some people have dinner outside on their balcony, and they've stopped doing that," Taylor said. "It destroys your calm or your concentration."

'There's a roar'

Dave Owen has lived with his wife at 215 Parkdale for 25 years. They've lived with buses trundling back and forth in front of their building for years, with no issue. But this noise is different.

"What we're actually getting is these big peaks," Owen described. "The Royal Air Force Red Arrows went by last week, and that's exactly what it sounds like — there's a roar."

Dave Owen has lived at the corner of Parkdale and Scott for 25 years. He's never been bothered by the rumbling of passing buses, but says the noise from the LRT is more like a 'roar.' (CBC)

Once the Confederation Line is fully operational, trains will be making 500 trips in and out of Tunney's Pasture per day. During rush hour, trains will come and go every few minutes.

Residents of 215 Parkdale have told CBC the passing trains have forced them to close their windows and, for some, disturbed their sleep.

Some have had enough.

"I'm now thinking of moving," said Hammouri, who owns two units in the building. "The only problem is, I don't want to sell this place to some unsuspecting buyer who moves in.... I cannot in good conscience sell both my units without disclosing to the buyer that, 'By the way, those trains are going to keep you awake at night.' So, I'm stuck."

Residents in one Ottawa neighbourhood say new LRT trains are far too loud. 0:36

A neighbourhood-wide problem

It's not just the residents at 215 Parkdale who say their peace has been shattered.

According to the Mechanicsville Community Association, residents along a swath of Scott Street east of Parkdale — including the folks in a low-income residence for seniors — have complained about the noise, too. 

In a letter to Mayor Jim Watson last week, the community association asked for mitigation measures to quiet the LRT. These include grinding the rails to make them smoother, installing sound-dampening materials along the rail bed and the trench walls, and even slowing down the trains as they pass through the area.

City acknowledges noise

The city contends that, based on a report from engineering consultant Novus, the noise generated by the train falls within acceptable limits.

Residents dispute that. For one thing, the decibel levels are presented as an average over a 16-hour period, which they say doesn't reflect the frequent, sharp rises in volume that come when a train passes.

Also, the noise-level testing, which was conducted from inside a unit at the Parkdale condo building, was done with the windows closed. Residents say that doesn't accurately represent the sonic disruption, particularly in the summer months.

Residents raised these criticisms at a meeting with city officials in early June, where the city pledged further testing — this time with the windows open — but that hasn't happened yet.

Ghassan Hammouri is so disturbed by the train noise that he's considering selling his two condo units, but worries that may be difficult. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

City officials do acknowledge the problem is exacerbated by the trench between Tunney's Pasture and Bayview stations.

According to a statement attributed to Michael Morgan, the city's director of rail construction, the trench is too narrow for the sort of track used in other parts of the 12.5-kilometre Confederation Line, which are packed with crushed stone that dampens the noise of the trains. Instead, that section of the track required resilient rail fasteners, which reduce vibration at ground level but tend to increase the noise heard above.

Morgan's email confirmed that Rideau Transit Group, the consortium building the LRT, has committed to grinding the rail after the current trial run is finished, and said that work will continue as needed.

Ottawa's rail director, Michael Morgan, says the city is looking at what it can do to quiet the train noise between Tunney's Pasture and Bayview stations. (CBC)

Stage 2 concerns

It's not clear whether that will be enough.

A 2010 engineering report prepared for the city had called for 2.4-metre sound barriers to be installed along part of the trench between Tunney's Pasture and Bayview. However, a subsequent report said the barriers wouldn't reduce noise, so they were never installed.

"I am nervous that it won't get done, so we need to keep the pressure on," said Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper of the mitigation measures.

At the same time, he said he understands why the city may be reluctant to slow the trains to address a "localized" problem. He said he'll be watching to make sure similar issues don't occur in the second phase of the project. 

The LRT will extend along the same trench to Westboro and Dominion stations, and later in a new trench along Byron Avenue.

"They're going to have to do whatever it takes to make sure that this level of noise is not recreated as we further down the trench," Leiper said. "This is an unacceptable level of noise."

About the Author

Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at joanne.chianello@cbc.ca or tweet her at @jchianello.

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