Noise from a train locomotive parked at Sligo Rail Station overnight with its engine running has been a source of annoyance to guests of the nearby Southern Hotel for the past 10 years, it was claimed at a special sitting of Sligo District Court on Monday. After hearing evidence in the case, Judge Oliver McGuinness adjourned the matter to September 2nd to allow Iarnrod Eireann
Noise from a train locomotive parked at Sligo Rail Station overnight with its engine running has been a source of annoyance to guests of the nearby Southern Hotel for the past 10 years, it was claimed at a special sitting of Sligo District Court on Monday. After hearing evidence in the case, Judge Oliver McGuinness adjourned the matter to September 2nd to allow Iarnrod Eireann park the locomotive for the Monday morning “early bird” train at a different location at the station.
SOUTHERN Hotel (Sligo) Ltd, having its registered office at Lord Edward Street, Sligo, brought the case against Iarnrod Eireann, with registered office at Connolly Station in Dublin.
The plaintiffs claimed that Iarnrod Eireann was responsible for the noise of idling trains that was so loud and continuous from 10:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. as to give reasonable cause for annoyance to the Southern Hotel (Sligo) Ltd and its guests.
Mr. Gerry McCanny, solicitor, represented the plaintiffs while Mr. Brian Armstrong, solicitor, was for Iarnrod Eireann.
Mr. McCanny said that the noise was generated by stationary locomotives at the rear of the hotel. It was an ongoing problem. On Sunday evenings, the train for the early morning service was parked directly behind the hotel and the engine left running all night.
Mr. McCanny said that Iarnrod Eireann conceded the fact that there was noise but had been steadfastly unable to resolve the problem with the result “that we are here today to get a resolution to this problem.”
During the hearing of a preliminary issue raised by Mr. Armstrong, he pointed out that the plaintiff was saying it was suffering an economic loss on the basis that it had to refund guests who could not get a night’s sleep, and that was not “annoyance”, as was claimed.
Judge: “This case will proceed.”
Brian McEniff, chairman of the company that owns the Southern Hotel, told the court that he had been making representations to Iarnrod Eireann for as far back as ten years.
“We didn’t get any satisfaction,” he said, adding that they were neighbours, and the hotel had a personal and working relationship with those in Iarnrod Eireann, and got business from them.
Mr. McEniff said the matter came to a head over the last six years.
“We have been treading very gently, maybe too gently, for the last six years,” he said. “I tried to be neighbourly and it didn’t work.”
He said the train was running for nine to 10 hours at night and all he wanted was a cessation of the noise at the back of the hotel.
He explained that the age profile of people in the hotel would be 55 plus and their sleep patterns were very easily disturbed.
He said it was very hard to quantify what the hotel had lost through people who didn’t complain. During the last week, there were three complaints and two the week before that.
“It’s very hard to quantify people who have been there and didn’t come back,” said Mr. McEniff, who added that a ban garda had told him her aunt didn’t stay there because of the noise.
He agreed there were suggestions that the problem would cease in December 2005. He accepted they were beside a railway station but he found the fact that there was an engine running all night very difficult.
Mr. Armstrong pointed out that the hotel had been the Great Southern Hotel, built as a railway hotel. Mr. McEniff agreed it was a considerable advantage to have the hotel beside the railway but he pointed out that other hotels took advantage of it too. He also agreed that the level of noise had reduced at Sligo station since it was originally opened.
Mr. Armstrong said there was a practice of engines running continuously since 1862 at Sligo Railway Station. The diesel service had been in existence since the 1960s and the present diesel engines were there since 1972.
Mr. Armstrong told Judge McGuinness that he would be calling evidence to show that the engines running was a necessary consequence for the operation of the railway. They ran all night in Inchicore but not at Connolly Station because there were technical supports there.
Judge: “They can be shut off.”
Mr. Armstrong agreed the engines could be shut off but he pointed out there were consequences for doing so.
In answer to further questions from Mr. Armstrong, Mr. McEniff said he bought the hotel in October 1988. This problem would have been an issue or 10 to 12 years. When he took over the hotel it was run down. The noise wasn’t as big an issue because of occupancy levels and guests could be moved from the rear to the front.
He said the hotel worked very hard to get occupancy levels up, tourism grew and the noise became an issue.
Mr. McEniff agreed with Mr. Armstrong that he built two extensions that brought the block of bedrooms closer to the railway than the existing hotel building.
Mr. Armstrong: “I put it to you that this is an evil you brought on yourself.”
Mr. McEniff: “I would not accept that.”
Later, Judge McGuinness told Mr. Armstrong that surely it had to be an assumption on his part that building the extension caused the problem.
Mr. Armstrong told the court that the 5:15 train left in the morning and an option being put forward was to bring the engine up to another location.
But he pointed out that the engine would have to be shunted up, with high revolutions to charge it up, and connect it on, and this would be outside the window of the hotel.
Asked what reduction in noise there would be, Mr. Armstrong said his understanding was that “it would be worthwhile.”
Mr. McEniff said he favoured, what was described as, “the close down option.”
Mr. Armstrong explained that if the engines were shut down, they would have to be run at high revolutions to bring them up to temperature.
“This is not a simple issue,” he said.
In answer to Judge McGuinness, Mr. Armstrong said his understanding was that this would take an hour.
The court also heard that reliability on the Sligo/Dublin service was an issue and if the engine could not be started in the morning, it would be damaging or there could be delays.
Mr. McCanny suggested that there also was a union problem but Mr. Armstrong replied that that was “one of” the problems.
Mr. Armstrong told Judge McGuinness that there was a maintenance facility at Connolly Station and a replacement engine could be brought from Inchicore if there was a failure.
“These engines cost ? 4m each,’ Mr. Armstrong pointed out.
He said that in December 2005, it was anticipated that the engines would be replaced with rail cars, each of which would have its own engine which could be shut down.
Mr. McEniff said he had to accept that shutting the engine could not be done at this point but another location would be better.
Judge: “Do we know that until we have tried it?”
Mr. Armstrong: “Have we got the case solved then?”
Mr. McEniff said he did not know that; he was not an expert.
Mr. McCanny said that his understanding was that there would be an improvement, but to get the noise down to a customer friendly level there would have to be improvements, such as building a wall.
Judge: “If there are immediate steps that can be taken to alleviate the noise they should be considered.”
He asked if they could come to a situation where the engines were moved to a different location.
Mr. McCanny pointed out that there was substantially more noise with the shunting operation.
Judge: “It’s Hobson’s choice, silence from 12 to 4 and then more noise in the morning.”
Mr. Armstrong: “And there is a second train leaving on Monday morning and there is a shunting operation involved in that.”
Mr. McCanny: “This was suggested before and it wasn’t done.”
In relation to moving the engine to a different location overnight, Judge McGuinness said he could not solve the problem unless “the option was tried on the ground.”
Mr. McCanny said he would like to hear evidence from an acoustics expert and a witness from Iarnrod Eireann, a position with which Judge McGuinness agreed.
Mr. McEniff wondered if the engine could be put farther out the line but Mr. Armstrong said there would a security issue with a running engine.
At this point, Mr. Armstrong asked for a recess but Mr. McCanny said he would first like, for the record, more evidence and for people to give sworn evidence about the situation.