Thunder Bay

Fort Frances, Ont., homeowner steaming over idling locomotives 'belching diesel'

A homeowner in Fort Frances, Ont., says she's tired of hearing — and smelling — locomotives that have been idling behind her home for days on end. But CN says these locomotives are made to run.

Locomotives 'not designed to be turned on and off in the same way as an automobile,' CN says

Idling CN locomotives, like the one shown here, run for up to three days without moving, and a Fort Frances, Ont., homeowner says she and her neighbours 'barely sleep, or concentrate or do anything here with this continuous noise and rumble behind us.' (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

A woman who lives in a residential community near the railroad tracks in Fort Frances, Ont., says she's tired of hearing — and smelling — locomotives that have been idling behind her home for days on end.

The woman said locomotives, not coupled to any train, are often left in the CN rail yard behind her home, running for up to three days.

The problem seems to have worsened over the past five years, said the woman, who has lived in her home for more than three decades.

The engines are "left idling, parked, belching diesel for a continuous amount of time, where that's all we hear, that's all we smell. It's just horrible."

She said some of her neighbours don't have air conditioning, and in the summer, keeping their windows open means their home smells like diesel exhaust.

"We can barely sleep, or concentrate or do anything here with this continuous noise and rumble behind us."

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Smell getting strong, resident says

The woman said she reached out to CN to share her concerns, but was told the engines need to run.

She said a possible solution is to have running engines moved further west along the tracks, near the industrial section of town.

"It's so much stronger [the smell] than it ever was. This is the oldest street in town. It feels like your house is rocking, and bouncing and shaking sometimes," she said. "It's a continuous nightmare with them behind your houses like that."

The woman said the rail yard is only 100 metres behind her home, and some homes on her street are even closer to the tracks.

She also said she has approached the Town of Fort Frances, but was told bylaws do not apply to the railway, as it is federally regulated.

CN says shutdowns not straightforward

In a statement to CBC News, CN said, "Locomotives are not designed to be turned on and off in the same way as an automobile. Because locomotive engines use water rather than antifreeze as the coolant, engines cannot be shut down when temperatures are expected to reach 5 degrees Celsius or lower (or if the weather is anticipated to drop to those levels)."

The spokesperson said engines can also be left running to maintain safety systems, air pressure, battery power, electrical systems, and heating or cooling for rail crews.

The company said most of its locomotives are also equipped with an Automatic Engine Start Stop (AESS) system, which turns power on to maintain safety functions, and shuts down the engine when parameters are met.


  • Since originally publishing this story, we have removed the name of the woman quoted in this article due to the tone of comments on social media.
    Apr 01, 2021 4:29 PM ET


Jeff Walters

Former CBC reporter

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff worked in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario.