Tracks close to Terespol station, source: PKP PLK

UIC: costs of reducing railway noise could hinder modal shift


To reduce noise pollution from railways, infrastructure managers and operators are taking drastic measures for those living near the tracks. The high costs for additional noise measures could threaten to affect the competitiveness of rail traffic, says UIC. The international association for railway wrote this in a recently published report on noise and vibration nuisance from the railways.

It is important that the recent WHO recommendations regarding noise are carefully implemented, says UIC. “Especially to make sure not to put environmentally friendly rail transport at an economic disadvantage compared to other modes of transport and to support the climate ambitions of the European Green Deal.” However, they also see risks due to the costs, which can be quite high..


UIC realises that the rail sector is in a dilemma. On the one hand, all attention is focused on rail as the most sustainable form of transport, but on the other hand, awareness of the negative effects of environmental noise on public health is growing. Especially since the publication of the guidelines for environmental noise by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2018. Traffic noise is one of the main sources of environmental noise.

The rail sector assumed its responsibility in this regard decades ago, according to UIC. Measures to limit noise nuisance include retrofitting composite brake blocks in freight wagons, rail and wheel silencers, low noise barriers and acoustic grinding. “Ongoing and new EU research projects will further improve performance: we expect a focus on optimisation of the entire vehicle, wheel and rail system and their interactions, as well as an increasing focus on ground vibration.”

Differentiated access charges

New European policy, such as the noise differentiated track access charges (NDTAC) regulations and the introduction of quieter routes in the Noise TSI, are expected to stimulate improvements. Large-scale noise reduction programs are being implemented nationally and several countries have NDTAC schemes with halved rates to encourage the use of low-noise freight wagons. For example, the Netherlands has been working with discounts for quiet trains since 2008. In Germany, a ban on cast iron brake blocks for freight wagons has been in place since December last year.

In general, the measures with the best cost-benefit ratio have already been implemented or are currently being implemented, UIC writes. But in addition, even more drastic measures are possible that can further reduce noise production, but these entail relatively high costs.

Russian freight train, source: Russian Railways


High costs for additional noise measures threaten the competitiveness of train traffic, according to the organisation. “Noise-reducing measures must have a good cost-benefit ratio. There are two reasons for this: firstly, noise reduction is expensive and that is why as much noise reduction as possible must be achieved with the invested resources.

Secondly, the high cost of noise control is most likely to jeopardise rail competitiveness, otherwise the sustainability benefits of rail are at risk. It is therefore important to find a balance between noise reduction and costs. In this way, the railway’s objective for the future can be achieved: to remain a competitive, sustainable and silent mode of transport.”

More maintenance

The costs of noise-reducing measures arise not only from the investment and maintenance costs of the measure itself, but also from effects on other parts of the system. For example, wheels of freight wagons equipped with composite brake blocks have to be grinded more often. UIC also mentions measures that have an opposite effect, are susceptible to malfunctions or vandalism or that make inspection work more difficult.

Read the entire UIC report here.

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Author: Paul van den Bogaard

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