Tag Archive: London Underground

London searching for ways to quiet the Underground

Photo credit: Skitterphoto from Pexels

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

That the London Underground has been recently cited as producing very loud noises that are disturbing to riders, employees, and nearby neighbors is nothing new to New Yorkers who have complained about New York City’s loud subways and elevated trains for many years.

Over forty years ago, I published a paper that found that nearby elevated train noise impacted adversely on the classroom learning of students in a school next to the elevated tracks.  The findings of this study resulted in the placement of resilient rubber pads on the nearby tracks to lessen the noise and the installation of acoustical ceilings in classes near the tracks.  A second study, after noise abatement, found that children in classrooms near the tracks were now reading at the same level as those on the quiet side of the building. The New York City Transit Authority then instituted a program to install these resilient rubber pads along the entire elevated track system.

After working with the Transit Authority on two occasions on its noise issues, I learned that transit noise is not only disturbing to all those subjected to these sounds but transit noise is often the result of poor maintenance and as a result can lead to potential breakdowns in the system. I wrote a paper linking transit noise to breakdowns in the system and explained that correcting transit noise is not a matter of knowing what to do but rather of not being willing to do it.  This is true for cities other than New York.

In reading that London is searching for technology to quiet its system, I noted that the same procedures that have existed for years to lessen the noise are being considered.

One would think that such procedures should have been examined at the first sign that the system was getting louder.  Actually, that they weren’t should not be surprising because my work on noise issues has taught me that for actions to be taken, those in charge have to be “hit on the head” before something is done to reduce noise.

A group of London campaigners concerned about transit noise has asked Transport for London to put up signs warning people about the noise. One would assume that hearing protection could then be used by transit riders. Transport for London’s response was that the transit system’s noise was ‘highly unlikely to cause long-term hearing damage.”

Really? What about the impacts on the hearing of employees who are exposed to these high sounds for many hours daily? What about the health of people living near the tracks who have been complaining? What about the discomfort to riders who use the system regularly? I would suggest that Transport for London learn more about the impacts of noise pollution which affects more than our ears—noise adversely impacts on our health and well-being. I would also urge that the noise issue be addressed with haste.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.


London Underground noise could damage hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Anyone who has ever taken the Underground (the subway, also known colloquially as the Tube) in London, as I have, knows that the trains there are noisy. Some lines date back to Victorian times, and on many lines the cars are decades old.

This report from the BBC documents how loud–greater than 105 decibels on many lines.

Transport for London, the quasi-governmental agency operating the Underground, downplays the risk. London Underground’s Nigel Holness said it monitored noise levels on the network and was investigating other ideas to “further reduce noise.” He added that, “[w]hile customers travelling on our network can experience noise, higher volumes tend to be for short periods of time and Health & Safety Executive guidance on noise suggests it is highly unlikely to cause any long-term damage to customers’ hearing.”

I would disagree.

The United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive, its equivalent of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, offers a “Noise Exposure Daily Reckoner” that allows workers, or in this case commuters using the Underground, to calculate their daily noise doses. Only 15 minutes at 105 decibels gives the exposed person a total daily noise dose of 90 decibels. That’s enough noise exposure to cause hearing loss over time. Those who spend an hour a day get the equivalent of a total daily noise dose of 96 decibels, which for sure will cause noise-induced hearing loss over time.

Many London commuters probably spend that much time each day in the Underground and in other trains or buses, maybe even more for those with long commutes.

And even strict adherence to recommended occupational noise exposure levels doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss.

Noise is different from other occupational exposures, e.g., ionizing radiation or toxic solvents, in that exposure continues outside work, all day long, all year long, for an entire life. I haven’t found a similar study for the UK, but Flamme et al. in the U.S. showed that 70% of adults in quiet Kalamazoo County, Michigan–where there is no Underground and the Subway is a fast-food restaurant chain–received total daily noise doses in excess of Environmental Protection Agency safe noise exposure levels. There is no reason to think that London is any quieter. I know from my personal observations in London, and from following reports from Pipedown about too-loud background music in the UK and from Action on Hearing Loss’s campaign for quieter restaurants, that noise exposure is certainly a problem there.

As Transport for London might say, “Mind the gap.” But in this case, the gap is going to be in its riders’ hearing.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Part sound survey, part sound art, and completely compelling:

The Next Station.  A collaborative work by Cities and Memories and London Sound Survey, the Next Station is a sound map of the London Underground and, “by remixing and reimagining every sound it creates[,] an alternative sound world based on the experience and memory of the iconic Tube.”