British Columbia

I hear the train a comin'... every 5 minutes: TransLink aims to reduce SkyTrain noise as complaints grow

After a detailed study on noise pollution from passing trains, the transit operator will choose from six options to address the issue.

Study recorded noise up to 90 decibels — comparable to a car blasting its horn 3 metres away

TransLink is coming up with ways to run a quieter Skytrain service as Vancouver developments crowd ever closer to the tracks. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Dozens of complaints from rattled Vancouverites have led TransLink to conclude their trains are too loud for nearby residents, but how to fix the problem has yet to be decided. 

Grievances made to the transit operator earlier this year spurred a study that looked at ways to reduce noise on SkyTrain routes.

Now, TransLink's board will choose from six options to tackle the racket.

Transit officials are already designing pilots to test the options, said Jeff Busby, TransLink's director of infrastructure program management.

They're expected to report on the results by spring.

Trains loud as car horn

The initial study looked at noise levels from trains as they passed condos and apartments in the Lower Mainland, Busby said.

Researchers measured noise from 32 locations along SkyTrain routes, even dedicating a test train for the study and requesting access to private residences for maximal accuracy.

"Obviously the SkyTrain network has gotten larger. It goes more places, there are more people living near our system," Busby said.

TransLink is encouraging residents to tell them about particularly noisy sections of track. (Caolán Martin/Twitter)

People within half a block experienced the most noise, the study found. In extreme cases, the trains were so loud they hit 90 decibels — comparable to a car blasting its horn three metres away.

Typical levels exceeded the World Health Organization guideline of 75 decibels, Busby said, which last month's update report notes "could adversely impact the quality of life" of residents.

Rail maintenance a priority 

The study pinpointed three main causes of the racket: the trains' speed, proximity to housing and the condition of the tracks.

"There's not much we can do about the speed of the trains, and there's very little, if anything, we can do about how close people are to our guideway," Busby said.

But the transit authority can fix the tracks to reduce rattling and rumbling. The study pointed to the rails' roughness, corrugation and defects as contributors to the noise level.

Smoothing out the tracks could lower noise levels by 15 decibels — something TransLink is already doing as part of their current maintenance, Busby said.

TransLink will consider six options for mitigating noise complaints, including grinding off the top of rails to buff out any bumps, installing dampers to reduce vibrations, and coming up with guidelines for developers who want to build near SkyTrain routes.

"We are a source of noise. We want to be good neighbours and find ways to keep those noises at acceptable levels," Busby said. 

With files from CBC Radio's On the Coast

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