Noise and vibration

Railway transport is the most sustainable transport mode, as it consumes less energy, needs less space and produces less CO2 than any other transport mode. However, noise has long been the main environmental challenge for railway stakeholders. The public and their political representatives urge railway stakeholders to become quieter. But a lot has been achieved, and more activities are on the way.

UIC Network Noise and Vibrations

The UIC Network Noise and Vibrations (NNV) promotes effective management of railway noise and vibration in the context of sustainable development. The group forms a center of excellence; it supports transfer of knowledge, coordinates events/activities, leads research projects and facilitates communication with key stakeholders. It works in close cooperation with other railway organisations, the EU commission and national authorities. The work of the Network is based on the Environmental Strategy of UIC and CER of December 2010.
NNV provides a technical lead on transport noise and vibration policy, in particular:

  • The rail sector response to growing pressure from the EU, national governments, lineside inhabitants, health organisations and NGOs.
  • Evaluation, review and guidance on upcoming new noise and vibration legislative initiatives and mitigation policy ideas and incentives (e.g. noise differentiated track access charges, prohibition of cast iron brake blocks, rail dampers etc.). In addition, it will consider the effects of noise mitigation methods on vibration and vice versa.

UIC Network Noise is concerned with all aspects of railway noise, e.g. rolling noise, stationary noise, and noise from shunting yards.
UIC Network Vibrations is dedicated to study vibrations and ground borne noise issues.
The expert meetings of NNV are held twice in a year.

For further information about The UIC Network Noise and Vibrations:

Projects and activities of UIC NNV

UIC Noise flyer 2019

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State of the Art Report - Railway Induced Vibration - 2017

The UIC Sustainable Unit working group on vibration has just published the Vibrations State-of-the-Art Report. In modern daily life, people are exposed to many types of vibration. The vibration is often accepted as obvious and no cause for concern, (...)

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State of the art Report - Railway Noise in Europe - 2016

Railway transport is the most sustainable transport mode, as it consumes less energy, needs less space and produces less CO2 than any other transport mode. However, noise has long been the main environmental challenge for railway stakeholders. The (...)

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UIC Research Project: Managing Noise from Parked Trains - 2014

Noise from parked trains is an increasing problem. In response to this, UIC have commissioned Müller-BBM to complete a technical review of the issues. The increase in noise issues related to parked trains is largely a product of urbanization and (...)

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Railway Noise - Technical Measures Catalogue
July 2013

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There is a growing awareness of the impact of railway noise on public health, which has resulted in pressure from line-side inhabitants, governments and health organizations for increased noise mitigation. As a consequence, noise can be a limiting factor for many railway operations, introducing additional costs for mitigation, demands for limits on availability/capacity and resistance to expansion of the network.

Recent years have seen the development of new, and refinement of existing, strategies and technologies for noise management. Railway companies often face calls to implement these, and demonstrate that progress has been made with the use of new and innovative technology.

By collating best practice and case studies from "real life" tests and adding the theoretical knowledge in this Catalogue, UIC stimulates the implementation of publically available knowledge, demonstrate the progress that has been made and also manage stakeholder expectations.

This Noise Technical Measures Catalogue surveys recent developments for three topics in
separate chapters:

  • Curve Squeal
  • Noise from freight marshalling yards
  • Noise from switches

In addition, one final chapter is dedicated to measures against rolling noise: rail and wheel dampers, K and LL blocks, noise barriers and acoustic grinding.
Curve squeal Curve squeal is a highly annoying sound that is radiated by trains running through sharp curves. Much progress has been made during the past decades in understanding this phenomenon. Mitigation measures aim at avoiding squeal events or at least reducing their duration or strength. Flange lubrication and top-of-rail application of friction modifiers have demonstrated to be very effective (reduction1: 5-20 dB(A)), provided that the dosing devices receive constant and dedicated maintenance. Friction products can be applied from trackbased as well as vehicle-mounted devices and there are many manufacturers and suppliers of such devices.

Special bogie designs, aiming at improved steering performance in curved as well as straight track, also reduce squeal noise and are potential solutions for the future, provided that safety issues can be solved adequately.

Noise from freight marshalling yards
Marshalling yards are areas where freight trains are decoupled and coupled. Because of the large scale of the yard, mitigation by noise barriers is no option. Among the most important noise sources are screeching rail brakes (retarders), peak noise from coupling vehicles and starting diesel engines, and steady noise from locomotive engines and auxiliary systems. Recently, new solutions for noisy rail brakes have been developed, showing promising noise performances (5-15 dB(A)). For stationary noise of several locomotives, technical modifications have been developed. Stationary noise of diesel engines, for example to operate cooling vents, may be avoided by using a way-side electric power supply.

Noise from switches
Switches and crossings are among the most sensitive parts of the railway system, claiming a large part of the maintenance budget. Switches and crossings also produce noise: impact noises from joints (if present) and screeching noise similar to curve squeal. In a traditional switch, a wheel encounters several gaps, causing a train to produce a rattling sound. Jointless switches are state-of-the-art nowadays (2-4 dB(A)) on lines where trains run at operational speeds. Squeal noise and flange rubbing noise in switches may receive the same treatment as squeal noise in curves (5-20 dB(A)).

Rolling noise
Rolling noise is the most common type of railway noise and there are many technical
measures that reduce it. High levels of rolling noise arise from irregularities on the wheel
tread and rail head, called roughness. Roughness of the rails can be controlled by
maintenance grinding and can be further reduced by acoustic grinding. Acoustic grinding
requires that the rails are ground or polished as soon as a certain reference noise level is
exceeded (1-3 dB(A)). The potential of acoustic grinding will increase if all train wheels are smooth as well. A large improvement in this field is expected from the homologation of LL braking blocks, which make retrofitting of freight vehicles a cost-effective option (8-10 dB(A)).

By application of rail dampers (0-3 dB(A)) and wheel dampers (0-2 dB(A)) a further noise reduction can be achieved. Rail dampers are applied in several countries. The noise reduction depends largely on the characteristics of the track system without rail dampers.

Promising developments for urban areas are low-close barriers, typically placed at only 1.70 m from the track with a height of 0.70-0.85 m. In certain cases low-close barriers are acoustically equivalent to much higher conventional barriers, their advantage being that they do not block the view. However, in view of safety issues with barriers placed that close to the traffic, to date only few countries have decided about homologation.

The real cost of railway noise mitigation - A risk assessment - 2013

National noise legislation requires rail infrastructure managers throughout Europe to take noise mitigation measures. Practically, the choice is between vehicles related measures (for example brake shoe retrofitting), track related measures (for (...)

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Real noise reduction of freight wagon retrofitting - Supporting communication on noise reduction - Synthesis report - 2013

Freight trains are the main contributors to noise from mixed railway lines. The railway sector, represented by UIC, proposes the retrofitting of the existing European freight fleet, by replacing cast iron brake blocks with composite (organic or (...)

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Rail Dampers, Acoustic Rail Grinding, Low Height Noise Barriers - 2012

There are many noise mitigation options open to railways. Some of them - such as noise barriers - have a known effect and are used widely, others such rail dampers, acoustic rail grinding or low height noise barriers are still controversial for (...)

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On the END Consultation - Noise limits and trigger values - 2012

The European Directive on the Assessment and Management of Environmental Noise has been in force since 2002. It requests Member States to produce strategic noise maps of the major transport infrastructure and of agglomerations. The maps shall be made (...)

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UIC Project, Exploring bearable noise limits and emission ceilings for the railways: Part 1 - National and European legislation and analysis of different noise limit systems - 2011

The question ‘What are bearable limits for environmental railway noise?’ is discussed regularly in different forums at both National and European levels. To inform this debate, UIC has commissioned dB Vision to perform a systematic evaluation of all (...)

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UIC Project, Exploring bearable noise limits and emission ceilings for the railways: Part 2 - Cost and benefit study for different noise limits - 2011

The question ‘What are bearable limits for environmental railway noise?’ is discussed regularly in different forums at both National and European levels. To inform this debate, UIC has commissioned dB Vision to perform a systematic evaluation of all (...)

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State of the art Report - Railway Noise in Europe - 2010

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Noise Annoyance Correction Factor, 2010
When the intensity of noise and duration of the exposition to noise increase, the effects on human beings increase as well. Residents will be more annoyed, the closer they live to a railway line or a motorway. And also: the passage of a single train per hour will be less annoying than a train every five minutes. These conclusions are usually presented as so-called dose-response relationships. Such relations were derived from field studies in the nineteen seventies. Usually they relate self-reported annoyance (assessed on the basis of score in a questionnaire) to long term average noise level.
In the early eighties it was found, in several of these field studies, that at equal long term average exposure, railway noise caused fewer people being annoyed than road traffic noise. This result was the basis for a differentiation in legal noise limits between road and rail traffic; the difference usually amounts to 5 dB. Some 6 member states introduced this differentiation, either in limits or in the prediction method. In Germany, the limits are identical for road and rail noise, but the prediction method introduces the 5 dB correction factor. This correction factor has been given the name “railway bonus”, a somewhat unlucky choice, since many people think that this correction factor is merely reflecting the environmental benefit of rail transport relative to road transport. As the above introduction illustrates, there are other, more fundamental reasons for this factor.

Over time, the justification of the noise annoyance correction factor was frequently questioned. Certainly at times, when the public discussion on railway noise increased, for example when high speed lines were planned, or currently in situations with rapid growth of freight transport. UIC has commissioned a study from DHV in The Netherlands, reviewing the available references on this topic, both recent and historical. The study concludes, on the basis of numerous international references, that most field studies confirm that the correction factor is still justified, even when traffic circumstances have changed. This applies to the classical relations, where long term average noise levels are currently expressed as Lden (day-evening-night level, with penalties for evening and night included), and “annoyance” is the self reported result of a score list, currently standardized by the ICBEN . Moreover, these two parameters invariably show rather good correlation.

Poor correlation is found, when other parameters are chosen. For example, there is a tendency to apply maximum noise levels instead of energy equivalent levels as the dose parameter. Particularly for night time noise, a wide range of parameters can be found, registering e.g. sleep disturbances. When comparing sleep near a railway line to sleep near a road, the window setting often disturbs the picture: most people near a busy road sleep with windows closed.

More study is needed to find ways to company the regular dose parameters such as Lden to the other, more incidental parameters. For the time being, there are no fundamental indications that the railway noise annoyance correction factor should be omitted.

The railway noise bonus - Discussion paper on the noise annoyance correction factor - 2010

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Environmental Noise Directive Development of Action Plans for Railways - 2008

Following the European Environmental Noise Directive (END directive n°2002/49/EC), noise mapping have to be done for large agglomerations and important infrastructures, every five years. The year after, the noise maps have to be followed by action (...)

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SILENCE project, 2008
The Silence project focused on the development of noise reduction solutions for rail and road, more particularly for urban situations, applying a global approach, with work packages dealing with noise sources to be evaluated, and work packages on global modelling, noise annoyance and noise mapping.

The general approach of the project was to identify and establish a ranking of the main noise sources, and to develop solutions of reduction for them. In a second step, the impact of these solutions on the total noise level could be evaluated using a global model. For this objective, the VAMPPASS tool, created during the project, delivered usual information like sound pressure level, spectrum and signature, but also sound samples of the pass-by, necessary for annoyance tests.

Prototypes of silent trains and silent tracks have been tested with the tool and some promising solutions have been found and presented all along the day, like actions on the diesel powerpack (encapsulation…), modification of the cooling system, use of wheel dampers for the train, and track dampers for the track. These solutions have been tested by retrofitting existing trains, but some of these solutions could be more efficient being planned since the creation phase of new vehicles.
As examples, the following noise reduction can be expected on the total noise level:

  • 5 dB(A) by reducing the rolling noise with wheel and rail dampers,
  • 8 dB(A) for a DMU at 80 kph, combining the different solutions tested.

The case of depots has also been studied.

Noise Reduction in Rail Freight - 2007

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Noise Reduction in European Railway Infrastructure - 2007

According to the UIC/CER report ‘Noise reduction in European infrastructure’ (2007), every year, between €150 and €200 million is spent in Europe on building noise barriers and installing insulated windows, more or less meeting with acceptance from (...)

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Rail Freight Noise Abatement - 2006

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Curve squeal noise, 2005
Curve squeal is an intense tonal noise that may occur on curves or on switches. The high noise level causes annoyance for people living in the vicinity of a squealing railway track as well as for passengers waiting in stations with curves. The character of the noise is very intense with high frequencies (up to 10,000 Hz) and high amplitudes that can be up to 100 dB(A) in 10 m distance.

To answer to this problem, the UIC Combating Curve Squeal project was designed to find measures against the annoying high-pitched noise created during pass-bys of trains in certain curves. A first phase, completed in 2003, was aimed at analyzing existing knowledge and developing models while the second phase, described in the report below, intended to increase confidence in selected mitigation measures.
A selection of friction modifiers and water were tested on two different rigs and under field conditions in Switzerland, France and the UK.
In conclusion, no optimal solutions could be found that would work under all circumstances. For each curve the trade-off between performance, dosage and costs must therefore be evaluated separately.

Status and options for the reduction of noise emission from the existing European rail freight wagon fleet, 2004
This report investigates the status and options for retrofitting of the existing European rail freight fleet based on a study commissioned by the European Commission and jointly funded together with the railways (UIC and CER), the wagon owners (UIP and UIRR) and the manufacturers (UNIFE). AEA Technology has been commissioned as consultant including the specific task of performing an independent third party assessment of the existing activities and results of the rail sector in the field of noise.

Status and Options for the Reduction of Noise Emission from the Existing European Rail Freight Wagon Fleet - 2004

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STAIRRS project, 2003
The STAIRRS proposal was submitted in response to the EU´s 5th Framework Programme "Sustainable Mobility and Intermodality: Competitive and Sustainable Growth", where the need was identified for a study to assess the relative effectiveness, benefits and costs of a number of railway noise mitigation options applied to vehicles or track.

The outcome of the project was to provide a cost benefit software tool to assess various noise mitigation strategies, to provide measurement methodologies to enable characterization of railway vehicles and railway track separately and to develop a consensus between legislators, railway operators, railway infrastructure managers and the railway supply industry on the means of balancing the environmental needs of the Community with the noise mitigation options available and the costs of their implementation.

The conclusions of the project was as following:

  • The most efficient noise mitigation step to take is to ensure that freight trains have smooth wheels. By itself however it does not achieve sufficient noise reduction to achieve targets being placed on the railways and must be supplemented by further measures taken on wheels and tracks.
  • A combination of smooth wheels, rail absorbers and optimised wheels is more effective than the use of noise barriers, even when 4 m high, at a lower cost.

A series of workshops were held within the project with the following conclusions:

  • Pressure from the implementation of noise creation legislation for railways is essential step for reducing noise levels. It was recognized, however, that some change to the EU funding policies would be needed so that where it was shown to be cost effective, financial support should be given to noise mitigation at source instead of it being used to construct of line side noise barriers.
  • Application of operational constraints, even locally, in order to reduce noise is not consistent with the commercial requirements of railway operation particularly whilst attempting to fulfill the objective of transferring traffic from road to rail and needing to maintain competitive with respect to road transport.
STAIRRS - Final Report - 2003

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Noise creation limits for railways, 2002
This report sets out current knowledge of the phenomenon of railway noise and the potential of technical measures to mitigate it. The report also contains proposals for future achievable and affordable noise creation limits which are based on this knowledge.

The conclusions of the report is as following:

  • The developing EU policy framework for environmental noise will require noise creation limits for rail vehicles. It is essential that the limit values adopted are technically feasible and affordable.
  • Measuring noise created by moving trains is problematic; empirical observations (for the same type of train at the same time) often show considerable variability. Any discussion about noise creation values must acknowledge this variability.
  • Several countries have introduced noise creation limits. They have limited effect in the absence of a Europe-wide initiative.
  • There is considerable empirical knowledge of the noise performance of existing trains; the results of collaborative railway research endeavour over many years have identified a number of technical measures shich will reduce noise creation.
  • Application of these measures to existing vehicles is much more expensive than incorporation in new designs.
  • The paper proposes limit values for noise creation by conventional vehicles, by high speed trains and by stationary trains. These are technically feasible and will be affordable when incorporated in the specification of new designs.
  • The paper also proposes limit values for noise creation by freight vehicles, which are retrofitted. Although technically feasible retrofitting with the existing technology is not cost neutral to date. To find financing solutions is an essential prerequisite if an early reduction in the noise created by the existing freight vehicles is to be achieved.
Noise Creation Limits for Railways - Background information from UIC Subcommission Noise and Vibration - 2002

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Noise Creation Limits for Railways - Main Report - 2002

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Railway Noise Research - Summary of Activities since 1990 - 1998

This report describes the noise research carried out by ERRI and a number of European railways until 1998. It evaluates the options available to aim for a target of a 20 dB(A) noise reduction for freight vehicles compared with current levels in 1998. (...)

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UIC focus noise

UIC Focus Noise - November 2014

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UIC Focus Noise - April 2014

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UIC Focus Noise - June 2013

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UIC Focus Noise - July 2012

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UIC Focus Noise - June 2010

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UIC Focus Noise - October 2009

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UIC Focus Noise - February 2009

Unfortunately, two errors slipped in focus no. 3 : Page 1, in the interview of Mr Kunst, the statement “The Dutch system for the reduction of track access charges for silent freight wagons is currently being implemented in Austria." is not correct (...)

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UIC Focus Noise - March 2008

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UIC Focus Noise - August 2007

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Friday 5 June 2015