Noise is one of the main environmental impacts of railway traffic. That is why standards are imposed for the noise trains produce. For trains which ride the Trans European Transport Network, the standards apply as established in European legislation. This legislation serves to harmonize the Trans European railway system, both technically and operationally. This is why in the legislation TSIs are defined: Technical Specifications for Interoperability. In the TSI’s, sound limits are established for acceleration noise, passing by noise and stationary noise. They are different depending on whether it regards locomotives, wagons, electrical trains or diesel trains, or material for the construction and maintenance of the railways. To prove the conformity with the sound limits, the manufacturer should test the vehicle type. Sometimes he can follow a simplified evaluation procedure, whereby he acoustically compares the type under assessment to a reference type of which the conformity to the TSI sound emissions has been proven.
In Belgium for trains riding on domestic lines – whether or not the lines are part of the Trans European Transport Network – the same sound standards apply as concerning the TSIs. For new trains this is checked by the Service de sécurité et d’interopérabilité des Chemins de fer (Railway Safety and Interoperability Service, only exists in French and Dutch) (this is an independent government service). Old trains do not have to comply with these standards. Therefore, one can still make use of older, noisier trains, until they are replaced. Some ‘old’ trains already complied with these standards by their specific construction. In Belgium the percentage of trains which meet the TSI rises systematically: in 2006 approximately 12% of the train material of the NMBS / SNCB (the website only exists in French and Dutch) for passenger traffic was of the quiet type. Because more and more new trains are put into use, this percentage is already 40% in 2015. According to the actual planning of the renewal of passenger trains this percentage rises up till 65% in 2025.
Not only at the level of the trains themselves, efforts are made to limit the noise. Within the framework of the European directive for limiting environmental noise (and conform with the distribution of competences), the Regions, in collaboration with the NMBS / SNCB, draw up an action plan. This action plan encompasses amongst other things measures at the level of the infrastructure, e.g. the regular rail grinding and replacing of brake blocks, but also in the area of spatial planning. After all, before a new railway is built, a file for the application of a building permit has to be submitted at the Region. If from this it appears that there will be too much noise for the environment, mitigating measures have to be taken, such as placing sound barriers or extra insulation.
Want to learn more? You will find a full overview of the competent agencies for the railway transport in Belgium on the website of FPS Mobility and Transport (only exists in French and Dutch).