Following Legal Advice, Stirling Council is to Take Enforcement Action on Rail Noise and Vibration
Stirling Council is to come to the rescue of line side residents who, following the opening of the SAK Railway line in 2008, have been left with broken promises and high levels of noise and vibration.
A report commissioned by the Council in late 2014 found that night time noise levels outside resident’s homes constituted a statutory nuisance and that vibration levels at some properties was excessive. Network Rail and the freight operators have continued to run heavy night freight despite pleas, complaints and even written requests from the Scottish Parliament in attempts find a solution.
Now, thanks to the support of elected politicians, there is hope that enforcement orders will protect the health and well being of those affected by these forms of railway pollution.
Protecting the Heart of Scotland
Stirling, due to its central position and strong transport connections, is considered by many to be ‘the heart of Scotland’
Rail Vibration Shaking Houses and People Inside
We asked, and we got responses. Freight vibration is a real problem. Even residents who didn’t have a problem before are finding there is a problem now. This could be due to wear, lack of maintenance, heavier loads, different speeds or acceleration of the train, etc. Many complained about the ‘square wheel’ wagons that are dragged, clunking, back and forth along the line.
The standard of rolling stock being run by German-based firm D B Shenker is, according to a report (see later), much lower than that of the other freight company, Freightliner, that used to run on this line. The DBS owned locomotives and wagons were originally owned by EWS, hence the white EWS lettering on brown background. DBS is a global freight corporation that describes itself as ‘a pioneer in environmental performance’.
A report on rail vibration presented by Michael Mathieson, MSP, to the Scottish Parliament, explained that DBS wagons have a very basic design of suspension system that puts several tons of unsprung dead weight on the rails. The report points out that wagons of this standard would not have been permitted on UK lines prior to privatization of British Rail because of the damage to infrastructure from vibration. It also notes that they would not be permitted on many European railways. Why does Networkrail allow them to run day and night right next to family homes, wakening children who have to go to school next day, shaking the beds, the tables, the fittings of the elderly and the infirm who need proper rest?
What about standards? Do Networkrail manage noise and vibration? The Office of Rail Regulation say they do however we have asked Networkrail repeatedly for the noise and vibration standards they apply but to no avail. Do they apply the British Standard for levels of residential/domestic vibration, the standards that resident were told would be used on the new 21st Century SAK line? Do they even measure noise and vibration on the rail network? We are still awaiting an answer.
Action. The Environmental Statement for the SAK line said that vibration mitigation measures would be implemented. If they were, they appear not to be working. Stirling Council will be measuring vibration levels in areas where complaints have been made. If they constitute a statutory nuisance, it’s likely abatement orders will be served.
What Now? . . . Read more on health and solutions to this issue.
GETTING A COMPLAINT FORM
Click here to download a complaint form . This will open a new page with a download button. Just click the download button (and direct download option) and it will save a PDF file to your computer. PRINT for yourself and for any neighbours who are affected. The form is 3 pages long, you only fill in the first page which is the essential part (takes about 5 minutes), but you should include page 2 as this is the request for the Council to take action. Page 3 is additional information and is optional. It’s a good idea to keep a copy of what you’ve filled in, then post or hand it in to your own Council at the address below. If you have problems, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, phone the Council, tell them you want to make a Formal Complaint about Environmental Pollution and give them the relevant information using the form as a guide. [Posting or handing the form in is probably better].
WHERE TO SEND THE COMPLAINT FORM
COUNCIL ADDRESSES AND PHONE NUMBERS:
CLACKMANNANSHIRE Lynn Parsler, Environmental Health, Clackmannanshire Council, Greenfield, Alloa, Clackmannanshire, FK10 2AD, Tel: 01259 450000
STIRLING Mr B Friel, Environmental Health, Stirling Council, Viewforth, Stirling FK8 2ET, (from landline): 0845 277 7000, Phone (from mobile): 01786 404040, Text: 07717 990 001
STIRLING HAND IN POINT Stirling residents can also hand complaints in at Stirling Council’s Thistle Centre Office: Customer First, 1 – 5 Port Street, Stirling FK8 2EJ (bottom of KIng Street) 9 am – 5.30 pm, Monday to Friday, but make sure it is properly addressed (to Mr B Friel, Environmental Health etc above) for it to reach the correct Council department.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
The Council should write to you telling you how they intend to deal with the problem. Keep any correspondence and watch out for announcements on the http://www.nvag.org.uk website or keep checking your email for further developments.
Noise and vibration cause additional health risks as well as being a nuisance so do what you can to minimize exposure, make sure that you monitor your health, especially for blood pressure and cardiovascular issues. Parents should be aware that noise exposure causes cognitive developmental issues in children that may impact on their schooling. NHS Forth Valley have been informed and the Councils are taking steps to investigate the situation.
“What do you consider to be the most urgent human rights issues which should be addressed in Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights?” Question by Scottish Human Rights Commission, SHRC, as part of consultation.
Response by NVAG to SHRC: The right to health, peaceful enjoyment of ones home and to the fundamental human needs of sleep and good health are currently being actively denied to many thousands of Scottish residents.
The consequences of noise exposure has been published by the World Health Organization in 1999, 2005, 2009, 2011. In the last publication, Burden of disease from environmental noise. Quantification of healthy life years lost in Europe, noise was upgraded to the environmental pollutant with the second highest burden of disease in Western Europe. It also noted, that whilst other pollutants are being tackled and the impact decreasing, harm from noise is increasing. On the railways much of this comes from increasing levels of night freight. On one line surveyed, ten to fifteen trains run between 23.00 and 07.00. This appears typical. Children are exposed to significantly more train passes due to their longer sleep requirements.
Key bodies in Scotland refuse to acknowledge scientific and medical evidence regarding noise and vibration exposure for residents and the need to protect against chronic sleep deprivation.
The Scottish Government, through one of its agencies, Transport Scotland, promotes high noise- level standards for night rail traffic that bear no relation to any modern health standards. Their argument, based on a 20yr old report, is that it is appropriate to allow unlimited levels of noise, twice an hour (in excess of 82dBLamax) during the night without mitigation for residents. This contradicts all modern health standards and defies common experience: loud noise wakens people. Official noise assessments show levels are four times louder than the 60dBLamax level at which the WHO advises conscious awakenings start to occur. The result, not surprisingly, is repeated awakening by residents and chronic sleep deprivation.
Network Rail has a policy of running trains 24/7 and claims that it is unable to refuse freight access if paths are available on the line. It also refuses to accept any responsibility for noise or vibration exposure to residents. Repeated enquiries to NR eventually ascertained that they acknowledge no noise or vibration standards. Regardless of how high the exposure to residents, NR does not regard it as a fault or a reason to cease operating. NR were asked as to what residents should do, when, having been woken repeatedly night after night, they are faced with driving, operating machinery, or performing tasks that require concentration, judgment or responsibility. Do they put themselves and others at risk or phone in sick? Network Rail refused to advise. Residents have to make that choice.
The Office of Rail Regulation requires Network Rail to have a sustainability policy but emphasizes that they do not do environmental monitoring and that the local authority are the body charged with dealing with environmental health problems.
Local authorities deal with domestic noise issues but are extremely reluctant to do so for noise or vibration from bodies who have statutory authority. In one instance in Scotland, on a modern railway line, where standards in the Environmental Statement approved by Parliament are being exceeded every night, repeated requests by residents to serve noise abatement orders have been refused. The environmental health officers said that they’d taken legal advice and had been told that they’d have no chance of winning if they took the case to court. Instead of a court deciding, the decision was made without the chance of those afflicted to present evidence, based, not on the consideration of a judge but on the advice of an anonymous expert, with no record taken of the discussion or points made and no public or independent scrutiny.
Many public health officers and even doctors in the UK are not aware of the problems caused by noise and sleep deprivation. This is surprising. A huge amount of detailed analysis and documented evidence has been published by the WHO over the past 14years; many internationally-recognized research groups, University-based, have presented studies. The public, however, are largely unaware of the impact of noise beyond that of damage to hearing and presume wrongly that they are not harmed if they ‘get used to’ the levels of noise. The WHO advises of stress, high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, physiological, psychological and social deterioration. A Cambridge study in 2013 found that sleep deprivation for just one week caused several hundred changes in the DNA of the human body. A study into HIV immunization in the USA IN 2012 found, as have several other studies, that sleep deprivation has a highly adverse impact on the immune system. The British Medical Journal states that there is now no doubt that sleep deprivation has a serious impact on health. Children are worst affected and suffer significant developmental and educational issues in addition to the health problems.
The noise and vibration pollution caused by traffic can be difficult to attribute but for railways it is both attributable and systematic in nature. Studies of parliamentary and business communication (FOISA) indicate that ignoring or downplaying the issue is part of a deliberate policy by promoters, often the Government working with private companies, and operators, to avoid the cost of providing protection from the noise and vibration they produce. Mitigation measures are available and are employed widely in the EU. When asked to apply practices or measures by petitions committee PE1273 at the Scottish Parliament during 2009-2011 the response from the organizations involved was that it was not commercially viable. It is viable in mainland EU.
A framework of complaint bodies and regulations exist but, whilst some daytime noise issues are addressed, night noise is almost unregulated. The public are left to suffer. If a corporation were to release toxins or ionizing radiation into residents’ homes at levels far exceeding those advised by health bodies to prevent physiological, psychological and behavioural problems, there would be immediate action and prosecutions. Strangely, once the label ‘noise’ is added, there is intransigence, disbelief, denial of medical evidence, failure to monitor and refusal to apply legal measures. What is particularly insidious is that there is no escape for residents: this is a pollutant that relentlessly penetrates their homes, their place of rest and refuge; they are subjected to this in the commercial interests of the polluters.
[Please note: this is the case put by NVAG for consideration by SHRC. SHRC is not affiliated or in any way connected to NVAG ].
At a full Stirling Council meeting on 28th Feb 2013, the council approved a noise and vibration working group as one of the items on a busy agenda. An amendment was approved that changed both the timescale of the working group to 6 months and revised the membership. The working group now consists of the environment portfolio holder, Councillor Danny Gibson, and the three Councillors of the Castle Ward: Councillor Johanna Boyd, Councillor Jim Thompson and Councillor John Hendry. The remit focuses mostly on the problem of the SAK line although it will also look at the wider issues of rail noise and vibration.
Thanks goes to Councillor Mark Russel who suggested the formation of a working group as a way forwards during the Petition Panel consideration stage. Although not on the working group he is interested in its progress and has asked to be kept informed
NVAG welcome the creation of this group and are keen that the Councillors take on board the views of residents impacted by the noise and vibration and take measures to find an effective resolution to this five year old problem. Indications are that the group will call on locals, NVAG, Forth Valley Health Board and other bodies such as the rail operators and government agencies.
NVAG would like to thank those residents who went to the trouble of collecting signatures that made this petition viable and also to Zara Kitson, who, although not a line side resident, suggested the petition at one of NVAG’s first meetings in 2012, and who spoke on its behalf at the petition panel hearing last month.
This is a positive step by Stirling Council for both democracy and accountability. When will Clackmannanshire Council follow this example and introduce a petition system so that hard-hit residents under its care have a voice in the democratic process?
A McIver, 5th Mar 2013
Keith Brown claimed in a Parliamentary response about a Scottish rail line, that the government were dealing with noise and vibration in accordance with the standards presented to Public and Parliament. [The standard being referred to were in the 2003 Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine Railway Environmental Statement].
Strange! The Minster was asked last week, in person, to keep that promise, to actually apply those very same standards. He didn’t respond with a resounding ‘yes’. In fact, his response was to the effect that it depends on how one interprets those standards.
Huh? The standards are there, WHO Guidelines, BS8233, modern, health-based standards that are fully explained in public documents for anyone who cares to read them. What’s to interpret?
A clue comes later in a second Parliamentary response he made about the basis for the criteria being applied. He advised that they were using a defunct, 20 year-old DGB Mitchell Report [but didn’t use the term ‘defunct’ or 20 yr-old]. This he advised, was the basis for the criteria they were using.
None of this ties up. The Mitchell Report is out of date, doesn’t address health issues is ignorant of two decades of medical research and has nothing to do with the modern standards in the ES statement that he said was being applied. The Mitchell Report doesn’t even merit a mention in long appendix of reference reports compiled at the back. So we have modern, WHO and BS8233 health-based standards for night noise and vibration, right there in the Environmental Statement, black and white, standards Mr Brown and Transport Scotland gloss over or simply can’t find . . . yet, strangely, Mr Brown had no trouble finding a standard that wasn’t in the Environmental Statement. How bizarre!! .
The truth? Transport Scotland, with Keith Brown’s approval, has been avidly applying an outdated, health-damaging, 82dB Lamax night noise standard from the old Mitchell Report to a raft of new infrastructure projects across the country. It saves money for Transport Scotland because they don’t have to fund night noise mitigation and it give carte blanche to any company who has no qualms about emitting noise pollution but has qualms about cleaning it up. Unfortunately the public, get the dirty side of the deal: chronic sleep deprivation, high levels of stress, ischemic heart disease, physical, psychological and social deterioration and poor and delayed development in children.
What now? Keith Brown needs to take a hard look at what he means by interpreting standards. If that means ignoring what was clearly presented to Parliament, was vowed to be upheld, was used as evidence in order to win approval for the bill, then that’s not ‘interpreting’. If it means drafting in a standard that wasn’t presented, a standard that comes from other projects, a standard that stretches back into the mists of time, then, no, that’s not interpreting. It’s something else, something rather odious and somewhat less palatable,
This is a real issue, not only for those who suffer the relentless day and night impact of noise and vibration on this line, but for the whole country. When the printed, documented standards in an official report are being ignored, ‘interpreted’, swapped for something completely different, we have to ask —what does that say about the standards of the organization applying them?
This article and all views and opinions contained, are those of Archie McIver, Chairperson of NVAG. 7 Nov 2012