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  • Reducing track noise

  • A 2012 study has demonstrated that our improvements to track maintenance have achieved a significant reduction in noise associated with the railway in Great Britain.

    Responding to the Environmental Noise Directive (322 KB)
    Reducing noise through improved track maintenance (21 KB) 

    What causes railway noise?

    There are a number of noise sources associated with the railway and, of these, rolling noise is often considered to be the most important. It is caused by the combined surface roughness of the rail and train wheel, a phenomenon readily observed as cars drive over cobbled roads.

    One of the best ways to reduce railway noise is to run trains with smooth wheels on smooth rails.

    How the improvements were achieved?

    In 2003, we introduced an improved maintenance programme that uses a fleet of engineering trains to grind the surface of the rail with rotating stones making it smoother.

    The grinding also removes and prevents rail defects, resulting in a longer rail life as well as lower levels of noise.

    The Environmental Noise Directive and noise mapping

    The Environmental Noise Directive (END) requires European member states to produce noise maps every 5 years for different sources including roads, airports and industry.

    The first railway noise maps were produced in 2007 based on data from the early 2000s. To inform these, Defra commissioned a study of rail network from which a +4 dB Acoustic Track Quality (ATQ) correction was derived.

    For the second round of noise mapping in England and Wales we commissioned a reassessment of the rail network in 2012.

    Levels of ATQ were determined for the East and West Coast mainlines using trackside measurements made during the pass-by of our New Measurement Train and data collected by an under-carriage microphone system fitted to the train.

    The results show that our maintenance programme has significantly reduced rolling noise across the network: a 4 dB reduction in the ATQ correction has been implemented to reflect this.

    While the findings require further verification, they are supported by initial direct railhead roughness measurements.

  • Related information

    If you're affected by noise from the railway, find out what the causes are and how to contact us about it.