Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

Key changes in the rail infrastructure noise guideline

The Rail infrastructure noise guideline (EPA 2013) replaces the Interim guideline for the assessment of noise from rail infrastructure projects (DECC 2007) from the date of publication of the new guideline. Its purpose is to streamline approval processes for rail infrastructure projects while ensuring that potential noise and vibration impacts are assessed in a consistent way and minimised as far as possible.

The Rail infrastructure noise guideline specifies noise and vibration trigger levels for heavy and light rail infrastructure projects, rail traffic-generating developments and non-network rail lines. If these noise levels are likely to be exceeded when the rail project is operational, the proponent must consider ‘feasible’ and ‘reasonable’ noise mitigation to reduce the noise impacts towards the trigger levels.

The guideline reflects advice received from transport, planning, infrastructure construction and rail agencies, acousticians and the broader community during the consultation period on the draft guideline in early 2012 and it has been endorsed by the EPA Board.

The Rail infrastructure noise guideline differs from the interim guideline in the following ways.

1. The name of the guideline has been changed

The new guideline is called the Rail infrastructure noise guideline (RING).

2. The purpose of noise ‘trigger levels’ has been clarified

Section 3.1 clarifies that if the noise trigger levels are likely to be exceeded, a noise impact assessment must demonstrate what feasible and reasonable mitigation measures have been considered to reduce noise down towards these trigger levels.

3. Definitions of ‘new’ and ‘redeveloped’ rail lines have been revised

The revised definitions of a ‘new’ or ‘redeveloped’ project in section 1.4 clarify that the appropriate noise trigger levels depends on the existing land use prior to the project, not existing exposure to rail noise.

4. New guidance has been provided on disused rail lines

Additional guidance is provided for infrastructure projects involving a heavy rail line being brought back into operation after a period of disuse (see section 1.4.1.2 ‘redeveloped rail line’). This issue is important because land-use patterns can change while the rail line is not being used.

The guideline clarifies that rail noise on such lines should be considered in the same way as for redeveloped lines − unless the track is substantially realigned. If the track is substantially realigned, there may be opportunities to consider additional noise mitigation options that would not be possible if the track remained in its original place. Hence, realigned sections would need to be designed according to the more stringent ‘new line’ triggers.

5. Responsibilities clarified where there is residential encroachment on rail lines

Additional guidance is provided (see section 1.4.3) to address residential encroachment near a rail corridor. In such cases it is necessary to determine whether land developers or rail line developers are responsible for mitigating noise on impacted residences.

6. Assessment requirements for redevelopments have changed

The interim guideline requires an assessment to be made of possible mitigation measures if a project exceeds the noise triggers and

  • the resulting noise is likely to increase the existing maximum rail noise events by 3 decibels or
  • the resulting noise is likely to increase the existing average rail noise by 2 decibels or more in any hour.

Practical application of the interim guideline found that the requirement to assess changes in any hour was onerous and frequently impossible given data constraints about future train movements.

The Rail infrastructure noise guideline instead requires proponents of rail redevelopments to assess the magnitude of any increase in noise levels over the 15-hour ‘day’ time and 9-hour ‘night’ time periods (see Table1 in the guideline).

7. Train horn noise still included

The guideline recommends that the noise impact assessment should consider horn noise when predicting noise impacts (see Appendix 7). This is a change to the proposal in the consultation draft, although not from the interim guideline.

Note that train horn noise has been the subject of a pollution reduction program on Rail Corporation’s environment protection licence and it is estimated that this has resulted in a reduction of up to 45,000 unnecessary train horn soundings per week.

8. Minor works not excluded

Under the interim guideline, some redevelopment work was exempted on the ground that it was minor work, including installing crossings, siding loops etc. The Rail infrastructure noise guideline clarifies that all rail infrastructure projects should be assessed to consider if they are likely to exceed the noise trigger levels (see section 1.4.1.3).

9. Includes noise trigger levels for light rail infrastructure proposals

Trigger levels for light rail projects are specified in the new guideline. Light rail projects are defined in section 1.4.2 and the trigger levels for light rail projects are provided in Table2.

10. Trigger levels specified for rail traffic generating developments

Noise trigger levels for assessing non-rail land-use developments (e.g. mining and extractive industries) that are likely to generate additional rail traffic have been revised and incorporated into the guideline at Appendix 2.

The trigger levels have been brought into line with current rail noise policy by replacing the older 24-hour noise descriptor with separate day/night descriptors.

11. Trigger levels specified for non-network rail lines

The Rail infrastructure noise guideline deals with a new category of rail line; namely, non-network rail lines on or exclusively servicing one or more industrial sites, such as a spur line connecting a mine to a network rail line. Where the rail line extends beyond the industrial premises, noise from this section of the track is to be assessed against noise levels derived from the amenity criteria in the NSW Industrial Noise Policy (EPA, 2000). See section 1.4.5 and Appendix 3 in the guideline.

Page last updated: 12 June 2013