FOI request detail

in-carriage noise

Request ID: FOI-0509-2324
Date published: 13 July 2023

You asked

(1) the potential health impacts of long-term exposure to high levels of noise on public transport systems? (2) provide surveys of the level of noise you deem is acceptable and which authority or governing health professionals have reviewed this? (3) there is a clear risk to health, it would be undeniable or evidentially impossible to argue, so please evidence what the risk rating is scored as and information on plans to mitigate this risk? (4) please also include information on what the noise is, why is the noise getting worse over time and how it will be resolved? (5) please include a roadmap of the tube upgrades over the next few years, including replacement of carriages to air-conditioned units. I am concerned about the effects that this noise pollution may be having on my health, as well as the health of other passengers who use your travel system.

We answered

TfL Ref: FOI-0509-2324
 
Thank you for your email received by us on 19 May 2023. You have asked for information about noise pollution on the London Underground.
 
Your request has been considered in accordance with the requirements of the Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) and our information access policy.  I can confirm that we hold the information you require. You specifically asked for:
 
The potential health impacts of long-term exposure to high levels of noise on public transport systems?
 
We recognise that the noise on some parts of TfL’s services can be high and uncomfortable at times. We measure the volume of noise, and the duration of this noise, across all the London Underground lines. For the majority of our customers, exposure to very high levels of noise on our services is usually for short periods of time. While there are no national standards for public exposure to noise, there are legally set levels of noise for employees. We monitor the health risks relating to noise exposure for our colleagues who spend most time travelling on our system, e.g. train operators. This information, which confirms that train operators’ exposure to noise while driving trains during their shifts is within the guidelines set by the Health & Safety Executive, gives us confidence that it is unlikely that our customers – who have much lower exposure to noise – are at significant health risks/loss of hearing risk as a result of the noise on our systems. However, we recognise that it can be uncomfortable at times, and we have set out some of the action we are taking below. We are also considering, given there is no national legal framework for exposure to noise for the public or customers, how best to measure that noise to ensure that we do not expose our customers to health risks associated with high levels of noise.
 
Provide surveys of the level of noise you deem is acceptable and which authority or governing health professionals have reviewed this?
 
As noted above, whilst we have occupational noise exposure data, we have not undertaken a separate assessment for passenger noise exposure.
 
We have measured the exposure of train operators (in driving cabs) to noise measurements. These assessments are conducted in line with the Health and Safety Executive’s guidance on the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (HSE Publication L108).  The measurements are calculated over an eight hour time weighted average to determine the overall exposure for the average working day. Action and limit values for occupational noise exposure are specified in the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. Details are set out in the Health & Safety Executive’s guidance. Our assessments are reviewed by experience Noise and Vibration Engineers, as measuring and understanding the risks associated with noise is a complex subject.
 
There is a clear risk to health, it would be undeniable or evidentially impossible to argue, so please evidence what the risk rating is scored as and information on plans to mitigate this risk?
 
As noted above, based on our noise assessments, where the levels of noise is particularly high on specific track sections we take action to reduce this noise. We understand the source of the noise – mainly corrugation of the running surface of the rail (as set out below) and we have taken action to address this.  
 
We maintain a rail grinding programme to address areas of highly corrugated track. Additional funding has been made available to implement a number of immediate and longer-term solutions to reduce in-tunnel noise. This includes the implementation of an enhanced programme of rail grinding, which triples the volume of grinding at prioritised sites. 
 
We take the health and safety of our employees and customers very seriously. While we don’t hold any risk rating for noise exposure to passengers, as noted above, we are considering how best to measure that noise to ensure that we do not expose our customers to health risks associated with high levels of noise.
 
Anyone affected by noise can contact TfL’s dedicated customer services line, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week via the link below:
https://tfl.gov.uk/help-and-contact/
 
Please also include information on what the noise is, why is the noise getting worse over time and how it will be resolved?
 
The main source of in-carriage noise on TfL’s rail services is corrugation on the running surface of the rails, which is mostly formed during the automatic operation of trains. The other source of noise is certain locations across the network is linked to equipment which was designed to reduce the transmission of noise from the train/track to the properties neighbouring the London Underground network, but which has resulted in containing the noise in the train. This equipment appears to result in increased corrugation in some locations. 
 
As noted above, we have a structured programme for grinding rails, which is very effective at reducing rail roughness, the main contributor to the in-tunnel noise. In addition to this, we are exploring the impacts of strategically placed track lubricators to help reduce the friction between the wheels and the rails. We are also constantly exploring the market for suitable solutions that could work in the very bespoke tunnel structure of the London Underground.
 
Please include a roadmap of the tube upgrades over the next few years, including replacement of carriages to air-conditioned units. I am concerned about the effects that this noise pollution may be having on my health, as well as the health of other passengers who use your travel system.
 
We continue to deliver our rail grinding programme, adapting this as needed to the sections of track where noise is highest. We are planning to remove equipment which has led to greater corrugation from the network. However, this needs to be carried out in a measured approach as not to worsen residential noise. In addition to this, TfL is investigating new engineering approaches to manage and reduce corrugation. This will reduce noise exposure for our customers and train operators.  
 
We recognise that automation of train operation can increase corrugation on the track (due to different driving and braking patterns). As a result, TfL has set noise isolation design requirements for future train rolling stock, such as the new Piccadilly Line fleet (which is the next London Underground fleet to be upgraded)
 
If this is not the information you are looking for, or if you are unable to access it for any reason, please do not hesitate to contact me.
 
Please see the attached information sheet for details of your right to appeal as well as information on copyright and what to do if you would like to re-use any of the information we have disclosed.
 
Yours sincerely
 
Eva Hextall
FOI Case Management Team
General Counsel
Transport for London

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