European Commission, Environment DG

Position Paper on the European Strategies and Priorities for Railway Noise Abatement

Untitled Document

Executive Summary

Railway noise can be reduced considerably in the near future

The Green Paper Future Noise Policy of November 1996 [11] by the European Commission states that the “public's main criticism of rail transport is the excessive noise level”. This problem will be exacerbated by the modal shift from road and air transport to rail transport as demanded by policy makers (in part due to environmental reasons) and planned by the railways themselves.

Railway freight traffic is the main contributor to the noise problems of the European Railways followed by high speed and inner-urban railway lines.

There is a high potential for the reduction of railway noise in Europe. Although the technical instruments for a considerable reduction of the freight noise problem are available, the main problem is the economically viable implementation of the noise abatement measures. The implementation of the strategies proposed in this document would significantly contribute to the achievement of the environmental policy of the EU to “substantially reducing the number of people regularly affected by long-term average levels of noise, in particular from traffic which, according to scientific studies, causes detrimental effects on human health”. It is more straightforward for a railway to reduce its noise emission and reception levels than for
road traffic as it is a more controlled system than road transport. Noise abatement measures could therefore be implemented in an effective and manageable way where the finance is available. Consequently, the implementation of the proposed strategies will increase the environmental advantages of rail transport. All noise abatement measures must fully retain safety standards.

The features of a common European strategy for railway noise abatement

Priority should be given to measures at the source (vehicles and tracks) as they generally are more cost-effective (see section 1.8).

Railway noise abatement must be based on a shared responsibility: all stakeholders must contribute to a common European reduction strategy.

Due to the international character of rail transport the strategy must include states currently outside of the European Union especially the accession countries.

Railway noise consists of various noise types: rolling noise, traction and auxiliary noise, aerodynamic noise (see “Existing noise problems for the railways”, section 1.2). Rolling noise is the most predominant.

For the abatement of rolling noise the first requirement is to apply measures to achieve smooth running surfaces on the wheels and the tracks (the strategy "smooth wheels on smooth tracks" will lead to considerable synergy effects).

The surface quality of the wheels and rails is subject to strong wear during operation. For durable noise reductions maintenance of vehicles and tracks is of utmost importance and should therefore be undertaken regularly.

Beyond managing roughness other measures such as damping and shielding elements can be used to reduce noise radiation.

Due to the long lifetime of rail vehicles it is required to implement measures for new and for existing vehicles.

The main responsibilities of the European Union are the noise regulations for new vehicles and the harmonisation of corresponding procedures, standards and information. Within the Directives for Interoperability the EU is going to implement noise emission levels for “interoperable” vehicles (operating on the trans-European rail network TEN-T). The WG strongly supports the prompt implementation of this instrument and its extension to other types of railbound vehicles.

The most important problem, the noise reduction of the existing freight wagons, requires a European wide retrofitting programme which does not jeopardise the competitiveness of the railways. The best practice example of such a programme is the Swiss railway noise abatement programme with a fixed time table for the implementation of the reduction targets and reliable funding of the required financial means without using railways budgets.
However, EU public funding rules currently limit this financing route.

The highest priority in railway noise research is the development of affordable retrofitting techniques.

Part of the funding of measures on the vehicles could be made available by shifting part of the means from secondary abatement measures such as noise barriers and sound insulating windows to the rolling stock, especially to retrofitting the freight wagon fleet.

Noise emissions from the tracks should be dealt with at the national level but it is important that there is a common understanding of the options for noise control on the track. Possible options include:

  • control of rail roughness by means of track design and maintenance;
  • improvement and development of track design to reduce noise emission, including add-on components such as rail dampers, absorption and low track-side barriers, but also novel track structures as they are developed.


For the most important railway noise problem of freight transport the working group has identified two essential instruments:

  • noise emission limits for new interoperable vehicles;
  • the retrofitting of the existing cast iron block braked freight wagons.

A significant noise reduction in the average daily levels can only be achieved when the major part of the vehicles in operation have been retrofitted. Procedures including financing must be found to accelerate the implementation of noise reduction. The WG recommends an implementation schedule of no longer than 10 years.

For the railway noise problem in general, the WG Railway Noise has identified the following most promising additional instruments:

  • implementation of normal maintenance grinding programmes also taking noise emissions into consideration;
  • member state and EU funding for research and development;
  • national noise reception limits for new houses along existing lines;
  • public funding for noise abatement programmes;
  • incentives for the use of low noise vehicles;
  • noise emission limits for new non-interoperable vehicles;
  • improved measurement standards for railway exterior noise;
  • specifications for the noise emissions in procuring/ordering new vehicles and tracks;
  • noise emission reduction by track upgrading or new design.

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