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  • Noise from the railway

    Find out what causes noise on the railway and see who you can contact if you are affected by it

  • The railway can be a noisy place. Noise comes from the machines used for essential maintenance and repairs and trains running on our network every day.

    We’ll let you know what’s causing the noise and how long the work will be taking place. Where it’s appropriate, we’ll also investigate and take action to reduce it.

    Find out more about how maintenance and engineering work affects you.

    Find out how our improvements to track maintenance are reducing track noise.

    If you’re affected by noise from trains running on the network it may not be caused by the track itself. This is the part of the network we own so while we can investigate train movements, we’ll usually have to work with the train operating company and local authority to investigate.

    Train operating companies are responsible for the trains themselves so while we can give you advice, we won’t be able to take action to rectify the problem.

    If noise from passenger of freight trains is affecting you, please contact the train operator.

    Vibration

    We regularly review the state of the tracks and carry out maintenance work to improve them where necessary, so it is unlikely that the condition of the tracks would cause any damage to nearby buildings.

    However if you think the vibrations from trains running near your property is causing structural damage, you’ll need to get a report from an independent surveyor.

    If the report agrees that train vibrations are causing damage then we’ll launch an investigation. We can only do this on receipt of an independent report so please talk to a surveyor before contacting us.

    Level crossings

    Most of the noise from a level crossing is caused by vehicles crossing it. Occasionally we can reduce noise by making the level smoother but rarely can we eliminate it altogether.

    Track alarms

    These alarms are vital to passenger safety but should only sound for a short time. If you are concerned about any alarms sounding from the railway, please get in touch with us.

    Train horns

    These provide safety warnings to people who are on or near the tracks and are a vital safety feature of trains on the network.

    Following a review by the Rail Safety & Standards Board (RSSB) train horns are now quieter and used less often, however if you’re affected by train horns, please contact your train operating company.

    Whistle boards

    These are used at footpath crossings where it is not possible for pedestrians to see approaching trains. When the train passes a board, the driver must sound the horn so that pedestrians know a train is coming.

    Because people use our crossings at all times of day and night, drivers have to sound the horn regardless of the time of day.

    We're trying to reduce the number of whistle boards but we can’t remove them where there’s no other option as they’re essential to pedestrians’ safety.

    Worried about noise on the railway?

    If you need to make a complaint or want to find out more about noise on the railway, please get in touch with us.

  • Tamping machines

    Track is made up of three parts: the metal rails, the wooden sleepers that sit under the rails and the ballast - the crushed rock laid to form a bed for the railway.

    For the track to work properly, the sleepers need to sit firmly in the ballast. When track has been heavily used or has been re-layed, we need to remove all the gaps in the ballast so that the sleepers do not bounce up and down as trains pass.

    To do this we use tamping machines. They are about the size of a normal engine and sit on the tracks vibrating the ballast with hydraulic 'fingers' to to remove all the voids and gaps. This enables the rails to be pressed down into the correct position so trains run smoothly, reducing noise and vibration.

    Unfortunately tamping machines are very noisy. Not only does the tamping process itself produce noise, they also trigger track alarms that give safety warnings to workers. Sometimes, we need to use two or more tampers and other equipment at the same time.

    Noise levels vary depending on the circumstances. Open countryside allows noise to travel further than hills. Frost makes the ground hard which means that noise cannot dissipate into the ground. Fog means that noise cannot dissipate into the sky.

    Tamping machines travel about one mile on a job, which means that they can pass by the homes and business of thousands people. Most tamping jobs have to be done at night so that they do not disrupt train services. Usually, this affects our neighbours for one or two nights.

    We are not able to give advance notice to the people who will be affected by tamping machines. This is because it is part of our regular maintenance work which takes place every day and night of the year, making it impractical to give notice to all the people affected by every job.