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’
The Office of rail regulation responded to this article as follows.
‘Thanks for your letter and blog post: understand your points and will reply soon.@railregulation‘
The response will be posted on NVAG. END OF UPDATE
Roles- Who Regulates Noise Pollution& Vibration Emitted by UK Railways?
Is it Richard Price, CEO of the UK Office of Rail Regulation? Or the team of ORR executive directors listed here.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR), and sustainability are high profile for any organization of good standing. For a publicly-funded body, a body responsible to government and public, a body that regulates national infrastructure, one would have thought CSR and sustainability would be the bread and butter of what they do. On the basis that ORR and the rail operators should act in a socially responsible manner, have a look at this ORR infographic of Network Rail targets for 2019 (this graphic was produced by ORR, not NVAG).
Anything Missing ?
There’s plenty in the infographic on increasing capacity, improving the network, reliable trains, maintenance, cutting costs . . . but what about CSR and sustainability?
The previous link to the environmental pollution action request form stopped working and has been replaced with the link below. Click on the link at the bottom of this page and your computer will download a UK Environmental Health complaint form in PDF format for you to fill in and send to your local Council.
The form asks the Council to:
• investigate your complaint
.•decide if the pollution is a statutory nuisance
•if so, to serve an abatement order
•to inform you of decisions and outcomes
Please do not worry about filling in all of the areas. They essential parts are to tell the council the type of pollution (noise, vibration etc), the source (trains), and to give your name address. The rest is all optional.
Forms should be sent/handed in to the Council Environmental Health Department.
Whilst construction work was ongoing (building new bridge for electrification, EGIP prog), train speeds in certain areas was lower than normal. Now the lengthy construction work is done, we’d like to know if:
a) train speeds are back to normal
b) what difference if any the lower speeds made to noise and vibration levels.
The rail companies argued at the Scottish Parliament that they couldn’t impose speed restrictions on rail traffic to reduce noise and vibration for residents yet when it became important for the operators, ie when they were engaged in engineering works, they had no difficulty imposing speed restrictions for the best part of a year.
Best Practical Means
This is important. Rail companies can defend themselves from legal action resulting from environmental pollution by claiming that they employ ‘best practicable means’, BPM, to limit emissions or the level of exposure for residents. Do they? The rail operators might argue that they use BPM for maintaining and running the lines, but can they say the same for protecting residents? We don’t think they can. There are many practical methods for limiting rail noise and vibration levels (BPM), methods that are already considered standard and are used in other countries, methods that could be implemented by rail operators in the UK. We see little sign of these being applied here except, perhaps, in a few high-profile situations.
Did the slower speeds help? Are speeds back to pre-construction works level? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org about changes in noise and vibration levels in your area.
A McI, NVAG Chair.
“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 ].
Stirling Council’s new Petition Panel, chaired by Councilor Steven Paterson were presented with a petition asking the council to take action on the noise and vibration from trains that is afflicting residents in the Council’s area. Archie McIver and Zara Kitson, who presented the petition, outlined the many promises and assurances that had been made then ignored by the promoters of the Stirling Alloa Kincardine rail line, SAK. It was described how Transport Scotland’s approach to the public had been not only duplicitous, but highly inconsistent and that they displayed complete disregard for health-based standards and the well-being of residents. The case was put that right across Stirling, not just on SAK, many residents were being exposed to noise levels that far exceed any modern standards and that vibration levels that were causing serious distress had not been adequately measured or addressed.
There was a good deal of pertinent questioning and support from the councilors present. Jim Thompson spoke about his involvement in Causewayhead Community Council at the time, their objections to Parliament and the manner in which they had been deceived. Mark Russel expressed disappointment at the situation; he had been involved in the process of approval of the SAK line whilst an MSP in Scottish Parliament.
Valid points were made by other Councilors. Corrie McChord asked as to whether advice on the Council taking legal action had been provided by a QC. Apparently it had not.
The Councilors agreed to a proposal that a working group be set up to address this issue. This will be put to to the Council’s Planning and Regulation Panel for consideration on 29th Feb 2013.
Link to Stirling Council website:
A legal advice and railway noise and vibration information session has been set up. Anyone suffering from the impact of the trains, concerned about their health or the devaluation of their property may find it useful to find out:
- what the new Noise Vibration Action Group are doing
- why the government and private companies have not yet acted
- the legal position from an award winning firm of lawyers.
This is open to the public, there’s no fee, no commitment, and you do not need to be a NVAG member. The meetings will include a question and answer session. To ensure you have a seat, it’s advisable to contact us using the contact details in our contact page. The venue is the Raploch Community Campus (new, large glass-fronted building). Meeting times: 7pm, Fri the 29th of June.
[The 7pm time was a near unanimous request, but anyone coming for proposed 8.15pm slot, come in, stay on and we will cover key issues] .
Parking is behind the Campus building and is accessed via the Stirling City or east side of the building. Come along. We are sure you’ll find it interesting. Location