Rail traffic is getting quieter!

The growth of rail traffic requires the acceptance of the local population. Our contribution: halving train noise.

The topic of railway noise has occupied the sector, and wagon keepers in particular, for over a decade. Loud freight trains are especially burdensome for people living near heavily travelled rail lines. Rolling noises have thus far been the main source of noise emitted by freight trains. The wagon keepers have lived up to their responsibility here. Since 2021, the wagons running on the German network have been fitted with modern composite brake blocks. The switch to these so-called whisper brakes required an investment of billions and posed tremendous organisational challenges. The result is easy on the ears: the fleets are now 10 decibels quieter, which corresponds to a halving of the noise perceived by the human ear as the trains pass by.

What makes freight trains loud?

The traditional brake blocks of grey cast iron used on freight wagons roughen up the wheel treads during every braking action. And rough wheel treads rumble loudly over the rails. Other factors also have an impact on the volume of the freight train: the condition of the track, for example, or the running noise and engine noise of the locomotive.

Whisper brakes: a small part with a large effect

Thanks to the new composite brake blocks, wagons are much quieter today than before. In contrast to the old brake technology with grey cast iron brake blocks, these so-called whisper brakes do not roughen the wheels. In contrast, they make the treads smoother. The effect is impressive: A smooth wheel on a smooth rail halves the rolling noise of a passing train.

Lowering noise requires everyone to do their part

Since the end of 2020, the Rail Noise Protection Act has made the use of noise-minimising technology mandatory on the German network – even for keepers outside of Germany. Because freight trains are often composed of wagons originating from different countries, it is necessary for keepers all across Europe to play along when it comes to noise reduction. Only if at least eight out of ten wagons of a freight train are fitted for quiet rolling can the desired 50 per cent decrease in noise be achieved. Private wagon keepers are expressly in favour of the statutory ban on the entry of loud wagons into the German network. Noise reduction will be the rule on the entire rail network of the European Union by no later than 2024, when the EU regulations on “quieter routes” enter into force.   

Seven approaches for making rail traffic quieter

Are there other steps we can take to reduce noise even further? What changes could have the greatest effect in the future? And how can the economical operation of the most environmentally friendly mode of transport be ensured at the same time? We continue to explore these questions in dialogue with policymakers, civil society, researchers and public authorities. One example is the “Quiet Rails Forum” financed by the German Environment Agency. VPI and its member companies have contributed actively to this forum. Together, we have identified seven areas of action, where we wish to work towards greater noise protection:

  • Formulation of new noise reduction goals
  • Further development of European standards
  • Optimisation of operational processes
  • Continued noise reduction improvements at the infrastructure level
  • Complete the upgrading of the freight wagon fleet
  • Promote innovation and research for quieter railways
  • Reduce construction site noise

Malte Lawrenz

Chairperson of VPI

T +49 40 226 59 21 - 51