Guidelines for the assessment of noise from rail infrastructure
Rail operations can cause noise and vibration effects which may result in nuisance and annoyance for occupants of nearby residential and other sensitive land uses. The Guidelines outline approaches for the assessment of noise and vibration from new or upgraded railways as well as for new noise sensitive developments near railway lines.
Frequently asked questions
What causes rail noise?
Noise sources associated with the operation of trains include wheel squeal, flanging and idling.
Wheel squeal is a high-pitched piercing noise that can occur as trains travel on curved sections of track due to the friction between the steel wheel and the top of the steel rail. Wheel squeal occurs from wheels sticking and slipping laterally on the rail head causing vibration and is usually louder and more annoying than other types of train noise.
Flanging occurs when the flange of the wheel rubs against the face of the rail head. The noise that can be heard is often intermittent and can range across a broad frequency and vary in intensity.
Noise from idling is mainly associated with diesel freight locomotives when stationary at passing loops or rail yards.
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is working to ensure that noise from wheel squeal does not reach unacceptable levels. While effort is being made to reduce excessive noise, all rail operations – in fact, all forms of transportation – will produce some level of noise. Noise is a global issue for the rail industry and significant amounts of time and money are being invested into finding solutions.
What is the EPA’s role in relation to rail noise?
It is the EPA’s role to ensure noise from the operations of trains, in particular wheel squeal, is kept as low as possible without adversely impacting on rail activities in the State. The EPA will exercise its powers under the Environment Protection Act (1993) to ensure operators take all reasonable and practicable measures to minimise noise.
What is being done to manage rail noise on the Adelaide to Melbourne freight line?
The track owner and rail operators are constantly working together to identify the main causes of wheel squeal and determine what can be done to reduce it. The track owner, rail operators and the EPA convene a noise abatement workshop every six months to discuss trends, causes and initiatives in managing rail noise.
The EPA licenses railway operations, meaning that the operators must comply with licence conditions set down by the EPA.
A noise monitoring system (known as RailSQAD) is located at Heathfield, on the Adelaide to Melbourne rail corridor. As one of the main freight trains routes in and out of Adelaide, every freight train that travels along this line is recorded by RailSQAD. It is a condition of EPA licence that rail operators travelling on this rail corridor submit a quarterly RailSQAD report to the EPA. The data reported identifies repeat incidents of wheel noise, and assists in determining long term trends and their associated causes.
Rail operators travelling on this rail corridor must also undertake rolling stock inspections and undertake maintenance activity on repeat offender rolling stock. The EPA undertakes random audits of maintenance records to ensure operators are compliant with licence conditions.
Each rolling stock operator also has a general environmental duty to ensure that all reasonable and practicable measures are taken into consideration to prevent excessive noise.
Is noise associated with wheel squeal reducing?
Noise monitoring in the Adelaide Hills indicates that the frequency and severity of rail wheel noise has reduced over the long term. This is based upon the information recorded and obtained from the RailSQAD wayside noise monitoring system at Heathfield.
The EPA and licensees both recognise that wheel squeal is a concern for the community and make every effort to ensure licensees are compliant with their licence conditions.
What can be done about diesel/ engine emissions? (ie smoke, oil and grease)
The EPA recognises that trains, like cars and trucks, have the potential to emit airborne pollutants. Whilst diesel or engine emissions are not specific components of the train operators EIP licence condition; each train operator has a general environmental duty to ensure that all reasonable and practicable measures are taken to prevent or minimise diesel and engine emissions.
What can be done about construction/ rail maintenance noise?
Night time works are sometimes necessary due to essential maintenance works required on the railway line that can only be achieved when train/ tram services are not operating. Employees undertaking the works are instructed to by their employer to ensure that all reasonable and practicable measures are taken to minimise noise.
If night time works are expected in close proximity to you, then you should receive a notification letter from the individual operator and/ or contractor carrying out the works to advise you of dates/times and potential known noises associated with the works (please note that no notification is required for works undertaken during the day). An EPA Licence is required to undertake new construction works and not for general maintenance. Prior to undertaking new railway works, Licensees must submit an Environmental Management Plan to the EPA demonstrating commitment to minimising impacts to the receiving environment.
Who is responsible for residential zoning/ planning?
If you are a resident wanting to discuss planning requirements for approved residential development then you need to contact your local council.
If you are a potential developer wishing to discuss the development approval process located near existing railway tracks you will also need to contact the relevant local council.
Who is responsible for fire prevention?
The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), the principal track owner in South Australia, has advised that through its track maintenance provider, it is responsible for ensuring that fire management plans are in place. These plans aim to control flammable vegetation on the fire corridor including: granular application for pest plant control (selected areas only); annual boom spraying; follow up spot spraying; grass slashing; fire break maintenance; and overhanging tree trimming as required.
ARTC has advised the EPA that local residents can contact ARTC’s property department on (08) 8217 4366 in respect to tree issues along the Adelaide to Melbourne corridor and the Department for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) for metropolitan corridors.
How does the EPA assess the noise impacts for new rail developments?
A range of major rail infrastructure developments are in progress throughout South Australia.
The EPA Guideline for the assessment of noise from rail operations provides a consistent process for the assessment of noise and vibration impact from rail operations on sensitive land uses.
The Guideline covers:
- regulatory requirements for railway owners, rolling-stock operators and relevant developers;
- noise and vibration criteria for purpose of the development assessment and compliance;
- recommended noise and vibration prediction routines;
- recommended noise and vibration measurement practices;
- an outline of rail noise and vibration mitigation practices.
Depending on the particular rail development, noise and vibration reduction solutions may be necessary. If a dwelling (or other sensitive land development) is being considered adjacent to an existing railway, the development may be exposed to rail noise. In these circumstances, developers should consider locating and/ or design residential development to achieve the relevant noise criteria contained in the guideline.
How many trains currently use the Adelaide-Melbourne corridor each day?
The number of trains varies on a day to day basis but typically around 20 trains per day currently travel along this corridor.
What departments/companies are responsible for managing train issues?
Train traffic - volume, frequency, speed, weight and length
Residential - planning and development
Local councils - List of contact details
Noise - train horn
Noise - pedestrian crossings (bells)
Noise - construction
Noise - engine/idling
Noise - wheel squeal
Excessive squeal - Environment Protection Authority (EPA)
ph (08) 8204 2004, firstname.lastname@example.org
Fire prevention (vegetation management)
Crossing loop at Verdun
Local councils - List of contact details
Emissions - diesel/engine
Excessive emissions - Environment Protection Authority (EPA)
ph (08) 8204 2004, email@example.com
Asciano Services Pty Ltd
ph (03) 9284 4000, www.asciano.com
EL Zorro Pty Ltd
ph (03) 9397 8288
Genesee & Wyoming Australia (GWA) Pty Ltd
ph (08) 8343 5455, www.gwrr.com
Great Southern Rail - Indian Pacific, The Overland, & The Ghan
ph (08) 8213 4444, www.greatsouthernrail.com.au
Interail Australia Pty Ltd (Aurizon)
ph 13 23 32, www.aurizon.com.au
ph (08) 8348 3113, http://asciano.com.au/pacific-national
Qube Logistics Rail Services Pty Ltd
Ph (02) 9603 0900, www.qube.com.au
Specialised Bulk Rail
ph (03) 9931 5356, www.specialisedbulkrail.com.au
Specialised Container Transport
ph (08) 8169 2100
Twentieth Super Pace Nominees Pty Ltd
ph (02) 6862 5466
Why do trains run during the night and why doesn't rail have a curfew?
Scheduling of trains is based on the departure time, duration of travel and arrival time to maximise their customer service. Many of these are scheduled so as to align with the arrival times with site specific requirements and limitations such as hours of operation, often at interstate locations.
Unfortunately, a curfew for the rail industry is not a feasible option. The rail industry transports products between all major capital cities, to market, port, suppliers, manufactures, small businesses and wholesalers, and to meet export and import timetables, freight must be able to be transported on a 24 hour basis.
Why can't the rail line curves in the Adelaide Hills be straightened?
Given the nature of the Adelaide Hills geography, limited availability of land in the existing rail corridor as well as the significant cost required to undertake these works, this kind of work is currently deemed unfeasible. Straightening the curves would essentially entail the rebuilding of the entire rail corridor through the Adelaide Hills.
Why can't the rail line bypass the Adelaide Hills?
The Adelaide Freight Movements Study investigated the different options available and the rail infrastructure needs of the Adelaide region. The study found that a rail bypass of the Adelaide Hills was unviable at this time given the significant cost.
Why are trains so long?
Train length is based on efficiently minimising the number of trains required to move the freight task and the crossing loops in place along the route taken
Why are the wagons themselves so long?
The wagon length is designed around safe and efficient movement of different types of freight included the length of customer containers (many are international standards based length) and efficient axle loading.
Why do the rail operators have locomotives idling in sidings creating noise?
The design of locomotives makes it necessary to leave them running (idling) if they are to be stationary for a period of time such as waiting for a train to pass at a crossing loop for safety purposes as there is a need to apply air brakes at all times.
Why do locomotives blow their horns?
The drivers of locomotives are required by law to sound their warning devices at level crossings and other points along the track for safety. This is done so that people at pedestrian and level crossings that are not protected by other warning devices, can be warned of an approaching train. Drivers will also sound their warning devices to alert track workers in the corridor. Due to safety requirements, these soundings can occur at inconvenient times for the local community and the regulation of the timing and noise from train horns is outside the jurisdiction of the EPA.
What is environmentally friendlier - trucks or big locomotives?
The average fright train takes 110 trucks off the road, reducing truck movements by around 49.7 million truck kilometres per year (Australasian Railway Association True Value of Rail Report, August 2011). In terms of fuel used and environmental emissions, rail is more efficient for a similar line haul freight task.
Why can't noise attenuation measures be placed in my area?
Carefully designed acoustic barriers can be an effective tool for reducing the impact of transport noise on nearby noise sensitive receivers, particularly residents. However, taking into account the cost of installation, the predicted effectiveness of the barrier, unintended adverse effects of the barrier (such as vandalism, visual amenity) it is often not practicable, or desirable, to proceed with the widespread installation of noise barriers along an existing transport route. It is for this reason that noise barriers are often installed at the construction stage of a residential or transport route development, as such barriers can be properly designed to take into account the above factors, and to take advantage of complementary design solutions (such as separation distance, design of road or railway etc) to achieve an effective solution.
On the Adelaide to Melbourne freight line, the trialling of track lubrication systems to reduce wheel squeal and flanging at critical locations has commenced.
Why can't wheels be made of rubber like trucks?
The wheels of trains are made of steel for a number of reasons. The wheel/rail interface is designed to ensure maximum efficiency in the power needed to move large weights around the country at viable speeds. If made from differing materials they would deteriorate rapidly under the high loads.
Why not put some sort of dampers on the rail and/or wheels?
Due to the forces in the wheel/rail interface this would be an impractical task. Any material used to achieve a dampening effect would by its very nature be damaged and unusable very quickly in this environment.
Furthermore, placing dampers on the wheels has been trialled and shown to make minimal difference in noise emissions.
What will the EPA do when I contact them about rail noise?
The EPA shares the concerns of the community with regard to excessive rail noise. If you report an incident to the EPA, the details of the incident will be recorded into the EPA’s complaints and enquiries database. The EPA continues to utilise the powers afforded to it under the Environment Protection Act (1993) to ensure that both the track owner and rolling stock operators are compliant with licence conditions and meet their obligation to do everything reasonable and practicable to minimise their environmental impact.