Municipal staff has decided against doing a risk assessment for a proposed low-rise housing complex next to the train tracks in Function Junction.
The risk assessment was to not only calculate the probability of death of a resident related to the train operations but also to look at issues such as noise, vibration, emissions and safety as it related to proximity to the rail line.
Since that time (when we proposed the assessment) we've found out (there's) only three trains a day," explained Bill Brown, the municipality's manager of current planning.
In addition, those trains, for the most part, are carrying wood chips and dimension lumber as opposed to combustible material. With so few trains and with mostly benign cargo, staff felt a risk assessment was an unwarranted expense.
The proposed 30-unit resident housing building, which will provide units for sale for residents on the ever-growing Whistler Housing Authority waitlist, is slated to go in the north end of Whistler's industrial park. The developers want to put the residential building next to their latest commercial complex, a large two-storey building in Function. Like that commercial building, the resident housing would back onto the train tracks only 18 metres (or 60 feet) away from the centre line of the tracks.
At a recent open house, one of the partners in the development, Mark Pedlow explained that there are three trains on the lines each day, one goes northbound at 2:30 a.m. and two head southbound, at noon and 10:30 p.m. But the train schedule is fluid, he added, which means if a train gets delayed somewhere on the line it can come through Whistler at a non-scheduled time.
While that means that there is only technically 15 minutes of train noise in a 24-hour period, Brown cautioned that the timing of the train is a key component. A train passing in the middle of the night sounds far different than a train passing in the daytime.
"You have to put it in the context of when it occurs," he said at the open house.
The developers are also doing sound readings with a sound level meter. That meter shows that a train passing the commercial building, next to the proposed residential building, records a sound level of 65 decibels with the window closed. That goes up to 85 to 90 decibels when the window is open. By comparison, a passing concrete truck hits levels of 70 to 80 decibels and a bus between 75 and 90 decibels when the window is open.
When first presented with the housing proposal more than one month ago, council raised concerns about the proximity to the train tracks.
They were also reminded at that time that they have received two letters from residents complaining about the noise of the train in Whistler. One letter dealt with the noise of the trains shunting at Nicklaus North, the other with the noise of the train whistle at Chaplinville.
Neither is an issue in this proposal.
Pedlow and his partner, Don Wensley, are also planning to build another commercial building in the area. It will sit opposite the residential building, further away from the tracks.
Approximately 10 people attended the April 14 open house. They either voiced support for the development or were neutral.
Staff is expected to bring back the development proposal for consideration at one of the May council meetings.