Noise Management

People living close to railway lines can experience varying levels of noise as there are many types of noise generated by rail activity. Whilst noise is unavoidable, our goal is to reduce and manage noise as much as is possible through a range of noise management measures.

We look to hear from you about excessive or extreme noise so we can investigate it. This helps us to better understand the source of the noise and, where appropriate, put measures in place to deal with it.

We also work closely with our customers about noise related issues that may be associated with their locomotives and wagons.

What are ARTC’s noise obligations?

Noise obligations vary state to state.

In New South Wales, we hold a licence for ‘railway system activities,’ and this includes the operation of rolling stock by rail operators.

In South Australia, ARTC and rail operators hold separate EPA licences, and each have responsibilities for environmental noise issues.

In Western Australia and Victoria, we’re regulated by environmental legislation and state government guidelines.

Each operator using our rail network also has their own environmental duties to prevent excessive noise being generated from their locomotives and wagons.

Common types of rail noise

Rail noises vary depending on track and train conditions, track alignment, and the operational environment.

The most common sources of rail noise are:

  • Locomotives – from the powered rail vehicles at the head of the train, when passing by or when trains idle on the network.
  • Movement of rail wagons – as trains slow down or speed up, the movement of the rail wagons generates noise. Bunching is caused by wagons bumping together as trains slow or halt. Conversely, stretching occurs as wagons pull apart, typically during acceleration. In a rail yard or station, shunting also causes noise. Shunting is the process of moving wagons and locomotives around into complete train sets.
  • Track defects – irregularities in the track can generate noise. Excessive noise or significant increases in noise should be reported to us so we can investigate likely causes and implement measures to reduce noise.
  • Wheel squeal – this is the high-pitched noise that can occur as trains travel around bends and curves in the track. It is caused by friction between the steel wheel and the rail track. Regular maintenance works for both rail wagons and the track help to minimise wheel squeal.
  • Horns – used for warnings. The use of train horns are at the discretion of the train operator, and their use varies depending on the circumstances in which they need to be sounded and the distances involved. The sound of train horns is distinctive, which is important as it allows the general public to differentiate the sound from other warning tones, even when a train is not visible. Train horns are sounded at level crossings or when approaching workers or members of the public on or near the track.
  • Construction and maintenance – from upkeep work or building a new track. To maintain a safe, reliable and efficient rail network, it is essential for us to carry out track works on a regular basis. This work tends to take place at night and on weekends to minimise the disruption to the passenger rail and freight customers using our network. We aim to reduce the noise impacts of our construction and maintenance works as much as we can.

Construction and maintenance

We schedule our track construction and maintenance works in ways that minimise disruption to passenger and freight rail services during the day. This means we often work at night. We are very aware of the need to keep the noise disruptions associated with our activities to a minimum, and always seek to work as quickly, quietly and efficiently as possible, while maintaining safety.

Before we start any significant maintenance or construction works, we make every effort to notify neighbouring communities of the potential disruption. We do this via letterbox drops and community announcements via our website and other channels.

Why don’t trains have a curfew?

For practical reasons, passenger services operate during the day to satisfy the needs of the community, so most freight train services are required to operate outside of these times.  While careful planning and scheduling means daytime freight rail services are able to run during the day as well, it remains necessary for many freight train services to operate after hours and at night. As a vital link in the national supply chain, it is necessary for rail freight to be transported on a 24-hour basis to meet demand and export timetables – in the same way as road freight.

Can I request noise monitoring?

We do not undertake noise monitoring at the present time. Instead, we’re focused on controlling noise at its source through track inspections, research and liaison with train operators.

Why doesn’t ARTC install a noise wall in my community?

Noise walls are physical barriers designed to protect properties from nearby noise. However, noise barriers are often not a suitable option for us. We prefer to take a proactive approach that tackles the source of the noise, such as the characteristics of the track or the train itself.

To investigate a noise issue, we need you to let us know the dates and times of noisy events. We can then undertake track inspections and talk to the relevant train operator to determine the likely source of the noise and what measures can potentially be taken to prevent it.

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