Photo credit: Tommi Komulainen licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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

Rory Bennett took a decibel meter into the London subway and learned that the sound levels recorded in the transit system were exceedingly loud. He reports that he was shocked to find decibel readings exceeding 100 dB. When he inquired as to whether being exposed to the loud sounds of the transit system could harm riders, he learned that while hearing loss accumulates over time, passengers traveling frequently on the London transit underground could in time injure their hearing.

Bennett’s next question centered on the cause of the noise. Maintaining the system properly and replacing parts of the tracks were ways to reduce the noise he learned, but doing so might cause disruptions in operations and the expenditure of funds. London Underground officials, according to the article, want to avoid transit disruptions and costly repairs.

Having been interested in understanding the causes and impacts of transit noise on mental and physical well-being, dating back to the 1970s when I conducted my research on the effect of elevated train noise on children’s reading scores in a nearby school, I learned that abating transit noise is important in and of itself with respect to health but is also important in preventing further deterioration of the system as a whole. Thus, subway car and track design, regular maintenance of cars and rail, and the use of monitors to continuously assess car and system sound levels are essential in providing information about noise in the system as well as information about the strength of its overall operation.

I want to stress that transit rail noise is harmful to those riding the trains, to those working in the transit system, to those living near noisy elevated train lines, and to children trying to learn in schools adjacent to these noisy trains and tracks. We know how to abate the noise, now let’s do it!