Tube noise passenger information

Please see below a short briefing on the subject of tube noise within carriages:

I agree that is not fair for anyone to have to put up with excessive noise, residents, passengers, or indeed train drivers: but TfL as yet have no engineering solution to the problem.

Equally, I do not think it is right for TfL to play ‘divide and rule’, blaming residents for not allowing TfL to mitigate noise in the train; and passengers for not allowing TfL to mitigate the noise in people’s homes. Excessive noise is not acceptable to either residents or passengers. The problem is that TfL do not have an engineering solution to either problem.

As this is an issue I have been pursuing vigorously with TfL I think I have got to the bottom of what has caused the relatively recent problems affecting people who had no noise issues for many years before.

It is a combination of factors.

Firstly, TfL have been renewing the track, replacing the old wooden sleepers with concrete; and the rails with a new flatter profile rail which was fixed directly to the sleeper, with nothing between to deaden noise.

TfL has also automated the trains on the Northern and Victoria Lines, the result of which has been to effect braking and accelerating of the trains at exactly the same point on the rail near stations, as opposed to when trains were driver controlled, so the wear on the rail was spread over a greater distance as each driver would brake etc at different points. The result of this is to increase the wear on the track and consequent ‘corrugation’ of the rail, a cause of noise, especially near stations.

They are also running more trains at greater frequency, requiring higher speeds.

All these factors generate more kinetic energy which is manifested in noise and vibration.

TfL did not do any environmental assessments before the track relaying programme began. This is an issue I have been raising with them. They are now doing noise readings on request in those people’s homes who are affected, and have done tests in tube carriages too.

Whilst noise in the trains is a problem, just as serious a problem is the noise experienced by people who live near the lines, and have a constant noise nuisance every time a train goes by, and especially so with the night tube at weekends. This is not like aircraft noise, for example at Heathrow, which is airborne, and can be mitigated e.g. by double or triple glazing. Ground based noise from vibration cannot be mitigated by such measures.

The Victoria Line round Warren Street is a case in point for residents. These are not people recently moved into new build. Indeed, for some of the grade 2 listed homes concerned which I have visited, they predate the construction of the tube itself!  Many people have been in their homes for years, some for decades, and had no problem till the track replacement programme over the last 3 years or so which has caused both ground-based noise and vibration. This particularly affects parts of the Northern Line and Victoria Line.

Most of those affected are in basement, ground and first floor homes. One has found her home to have such loud and frequent noise it has been rendered uninhabitable and she has to ‘sofa surf’ with friends.  Long standing residents, some of whom have lived in the same place for 20 years or more and  who had no problem until the last 2 or 3 years now find that they have noise nuisance every time a train  comes by, and with the night tube they have no relief from sleep disruption throughout  from early on Fridays till after midnight on Sundays,  which is affecting their physical and mental health when faced with never ending  sleep disturbed  nights. If you would like to visit an affected resident so you can hear the noise they suffer I am sure I could arrange it for you!

Turning to carriage noise, I don’t think there is a risk to passengers’ hearing as although the noise is loud the exposure is relatively short and infrequent. Noise induced hearing loss depends on the level of noise, the duration of the exposure, the frequency of exposure, and the overall time (usually in years) the exposure lasted.  Before I was in politics full time I was a leading personal injury lawyer and my firm specialised, amongst other things, in noise induced deafness cases, so I do know a bit about it. Aggregating noise exposure is not correct: the criteria are as set out above; and after a 2 or 3 minute exposure there is then substantial recovery time after getting off the train which negates the noise’s effects. I agree it is very unpleasant and people should not have to put up with it, but I do not believe it is dangerous for passengers. Compared to a  noisy pop concert, band members who are exposed for several hours a night several days a week over months and years may be in a hazardous situation, but their audiences, who may hear the noise for several hours just once may well have an  immediate dull feeling  in the ears- but it wears off in the following recovery period and does not lead to noise induced   deafness.

I have met TfL engineers on site visits twice in the last 3 months (and on a number of previous occasions) and the Deputy Mayor for Transport with the senior TfL engineer recently. The challenge is finding an engineering solution to reduce the noise all round, for both passengers and residents but TfL really don’t have any engineering solutions to the problems they themselves have created and have been telling residents that in effect they just have to put up with it which is not acceptable.

I think the best option in the interim will prove to be running the trains more slowly to reduce the energy generated until a better solution can be found to the noise and vibration environmental pollution for which TfL are responsible. This they are looking at for outside peak hours.