Photo credit: Roy Reyna from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

Thomas Mackintosh, BBC, writes in his recent article on the London Underground that there has been increase in noise complaints, especially on its Northern and Victoria lines. Transport for London responded to this by saying that noise coming from the tracks “can be from normal wear and tear, track faults or misaligned joints.” The agency goes on to say that it carries out regular inspections of the system and makes track improvements when necessary.

Mackintosh quotes London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan who said that Transport for London was well aware of the importance of minimizing noise levels, adding that there was an ongoing program to renew and maintain the rail and the track.

But if appropriate renewal and maintenance programs are taking place regularly, why have noise complaints risen?

Over forty years ago, after conducting a study that demonstrated elevated train noise could disrupt classroom learning in a school located near the elevated tracks in Upper Manhattan, I became especially interested in the noise levels of New York City’s transit system. With respect to the noise at the school, I learned that the transit authority was about to test out rubber pads to be placed on the tracks to reduce the noise. The Transit Authority chose the tracks adjacent to the school to test out the pads and, indeed, this noise abatement reduced the noise on the tracks and in the classrooms as well.

However, my interest went beyond the noise reduction at the school and I began to question the Transit Authority about how it goes about keeping noise at a minimum in the system. Surprisingly, the Transit Authority asked me to be a consultant on noise and to work with their engineers on transit noise problems. It was then I learned that some of the methods being used to lessen noise were not as well implemented as they should have been. For example, although they had vats of lubricant that would be discharged to keep the rail smooth, the agency did not keep a careful check on whether or not the vats were regularly filled. The agency then devised a system to check the vats more often. You can look at a paper I wrote in 2010 that addresses the importance of transit maintenance with respect to noise reduction and preventing breakdowns in the system.

I would suggest that Mayor Khan appoint a task force to check out more thoroughly how Transport for London is actually carrying out its renewal and maintenance programs to reduce noise and to keep the system working more efficiently. They may find, as I did in New York City, what they may be lacking and what needs improvement.