Noise management

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​​Queensland Rail is aware that those living close to our railway lines or within transport noise corridors can experience varying levels of noise.

While noise from the operation of a railway is exempt from environmental nuisance provisions under the Queensland Environment Protection Act 1994, Queensland Rail strives to manage noise associated with its operations wherever reasonable and practical. 

There are various sources of noise from a railway and to aid efficient and effective noise reduction, a range of noise management measures are utilised. Find out more below.

All trains using the Queensland Rail network are fitted with a train horn (also known as a klaxon). The sounding of the train horn is a critical safety measure to warn people in or near the rail corridor that a train is approaching or about to move. 

The sound of train horns is distinctive, which is important as it allows the warning to be differentiated from other warning and alert tones that may be used in the same general area.  This allows the public to immediately associate the sound with train movement, even when a train is not visible. 

In order to be effective as a warning device, the volume of the horns must be high enough for them to be heard over other sources of noise in the environment, including auditory distractions such as personal music players and car stereos.

Train horns are sounded for various situations, including at whistle boards, when a train is about to move from a stationary position (such as when departing a station), and when approaching workers or members of the public on or near the track. Horns are also sounded at the discretion of the driver in emergency situations.

Whistle boards are strategically located within the rail corridor on the approach to high risk locations such as level and pedestrian crossings, bridges and tunnels. When a train passes a whistle board, the train driver must sound the horn so pedestrians, motorists and track workers know a train is coming.

Because people use our crossings during both day and night, train drivers need to sound the horn at whistle boards regardless of the time of day.

In order to maintain a safe, reliable and efficient rail network, it is essential that Queensland Rail carry out track works on a regular basis. The majority of track work is undertaken outside of peak times, mainly overnight or on weekends, in order to minimise the disruption to customers. 

During both the planning and delivery of night and weekend works, Queensland Rail aims to reduce community noise impacts, where practicable. Before commencing any noisy night-time or weekend maintenance / construction works, Queensland Rail makes every effort to notify impacted neighbouring communities of the potential disruption.

Wheel squeal is the high-pitched noise that can occur as trains travel around curved track. It is primarily caused by friction between the steel wheel and the steel rail.

Queensland Rail’s scheduled track maintenance regime includes a program of rail grinding, which assists in reducing noise by providing the optimum interface point between the train wheels and the rail.

In some suitable areas, rail lubricators may also be installed to assist with reducing wheel squeal.  The application of a lubricant and/or water along the rail surface further reduces friction between the wheel and the rail, with the benefit of reduced noise. 

Regular maintenance of rollingstock, including the optimisation of wheel profiles, also assists with minimising wheel squeal. 

Rails lose their shape because of wheel impact, abrupt acceleration and braking as well as from extreme heat, vibration and movement. Removing irregularities from worn rails reduces noise which results in a smoother ride and extends the track life.

Two machines are used to grind the track the largest being ‘the mainline’ rail grinder which is 180 metres long, nine wagons and weighing approximately 650 tonnes. It looks a lot like a train but travels between eight and 12 kms an hour, grinding the rail as it travels.

A slightly smaller ‘turn out grinder’ is used to grind small sections of rail, such as crossings and rail deviations. This machine is 55 metres, five wagons and weighs 160 tonnes.

The grinders can only operate safely when there are no trains operating on the same line. To minimise inconvenience to the thousands of people who travel by train in Queensland each day, the necessary track closures are generally scheduled between the last evening service and the first morning service.

People living close to the rail corridor may hear the rail grinder for a few minutes late at night as it approaches and moves past their properties. In most cases the noise will last only a few minutes.

The Queensland Government is investing in quieter new generation passenger trains that will be progressively introduced to replace existing units. Details of this investment program can be found at the Department of Transport and Mains Road website..

Queensland Rail continues to investigate the application of noise controls to its existing passenger trains with the highest noise levels and/or greatest potential for noise reduction. Passenger trains with the longest remaining service life receive the highest priority.

Queensland Rail does not own or operate freight services. However, we manage the rail network on which some of these services run. Third party operators who request access to our network must be accredited rail operators and enter into access agreements with Queensland Rail. These access agreements include matters associated with noise management.

Queensland Rail is obligated to give priority to regularly scheduled passenger transport services. As the vast majority of passenger services operate during the day to satisfy the service needs of the community, most freight train services are required to operate outside of these times. While careful planning and scheduling maximises the utilisation of available daytime freight paths, it remains necessary that many of the freight train services operate after hours, including overnight.

As the rail manager, Queensland Rail will work closely with the freight operators, and provide feedback so that they can investigate and address as applicable, noise related issues that may be associated with their locomotives and wagons.

Queensland Rail makes every effort to facilitate the uninterrupted passage of freight trains through the Brisbane suburban network. However, due to safety and/or operational requirements, it is sometimes unavoidable that trains be held temporarily at various signals throughout the suburban network. 

Where the holding of freight trains is required, every attempt is made to hold them at signals in less populated areas but there may be occasions when this is not safe or operationally feasible.

Stabling yards are located across the rail network, and are used as passenger train storage/parking areas which allow trains to enter into service efficiently across the network to meet demand.  Trains may also be cleaned and inspected at stabling yards in preparation for entry into service.  
Cleaning and inspections usually occur between evening and morning peaks, and it is necessary that power be maintained to the trains and some systems continue to run during these activities. Some noise may be experienced.

Noise barriers are physical barriers designed and constructed to shield properties adjacent to the rail corridor from noise; however they are not always the most suitable option for reducing noise. 

The use of noise barriers can pose various challenges relating to constructability, safety and amenity.  To be effective, noise barriers must block the line of sight between the noise source and the affected sensitive place.  Noise barriers can also be a significant visual feature in the local area that may obstruct existing views, reduce breezes, create access issues and attract anti-social behaviour such as graffiti. 

It is important to note, that where a noise barrier has been identified as a viable option, it is a requirement that the affected property owners be consulted.  Noise barriers are only constructed in locations where the majority of affected property owners are in favour of construction.

Proposed new developments adjoining the rail network may be subject to noise mitigation conditions.   

More information can be found at here.