Designing out the noise: Optimising track design for a quieter railway

The LOWNOISEPAD project brings together 12 European railway infrastructure companies to find an optimal rail pad for both noise and track quality issues. The results are hoped to play a part in improving the quality of life for those living close to railway networks. Colleagues Pınar Yılmazer and Lucie Anderton from the UIC’s Sustainability Unit, explain more.

rail testing

Testing in Austria to find an optimal rail pad for both noise and track quality issues. Credit: ÖBB Infrastruktur AG

To support a green recovery, railways must contribute to healthy, sustainable lifestyles and economies; an important part of that is to strive to be good neighbours to those living around the tracks. Railways must rise to the challenge of the ambitious targets set in the European Zero Pollution Action Plan and contribute to reduce the share of people chronically disturbed by transport noise by 30 per cent1.

European railways have successfully focused on the effective management, monitoring and maintaining of infrastructure and rolling stock to reduce railway noise and vibration by being involved in several collaborative research and development projects. The dominant source of noise from the railways is the radiated noise from the rail and the wheel interface. While the extensive construction of noise barriers has effectively reduced noise pollution, particularly in urban areas, seeking solutions to reduce noise at its source is the most efficient approach and the main area of focus for the International Union of Railways (UIC) and its members.

The UIC, together with its members, seek collaborative approaches to share a global vision of being a good neighbour. The UIC Noise and Vibration (NV) sector2 is a working body which is helping to make tangible progress towards a better understanding of noise-generating mechanisms in railways and quieter operations.

The UIC’s latest noise report, Railway Noise in Europe, State-of-the-art report3, highlights how noise levels on European railways have been significantly reduced through innovative solutions, including the retrofitting of cast- iron block brakes on freight wagons with composite brake blocks. The UIC report provides the most promising measures, as well as the most cost-effective strategies, capable of delivering significant reduction in complaints due to environmental noise. The making of the report has spurred the UIC working group on to further improve the performance of methods for noise prediction, control, and assessment with more innovative, cost-effective solutions and methodologies, with a focus on the optimisation of the whole system of vehicle, wheel and rail and their interactions.

LOWNOISEPAD: European joint research on optimising rail pads

One of the most interesting opportunities to reduce noise pollution at source is with rail pads. The rail pads contribute to the reduction of sound radiation from the track as it vibrates while a train runs over it. However, the difficulty with rail pad design is the trade-off that exists between noise reduction and better track quality. It is this challenge that has sparked the latest UIC research project.