Gladiatorial games, part 19

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 18, posted on 1 Mar 2016).

If you have watched the videos of the appearance by Chiltern District Council (CDC) before the HS2 Select Committee to discuss noise issues you may be forgiven for thinking that there is very little upon which the two acoustics experts that gave evidence – Rick Methold for CDC and Rupert Thornely-Taylor for the Promoter – find themselves anywhere close to agreement (see footnote 1). One exception appears to be Mr Methold’s exhibit A1571(47) where there is at least a degree of accord about what is depicted – hardly a surprise, since the same graphic had been utilised by Mr Thornely-Taylor when he had provided the Select Committee with an overview of HS2 noise in July 2014. This exhibit, which I describe in part 14 of this blog series, displays three cumulative distribution functions (CDF) relating to the highly annoyed response to three types of transportation noise: road traffic, conventional railway, and aircraft. A notable feature of this exhibit is that, at all levels of noise, the percentage of the population finding noise at or below that level highly annoying is less for conventional railways than for roads, with the discrepancy increasing with the noise level.

The belief that those living near to conventional railways find the noise, dB for dB, less annoying than those subject to noise from road traffic do, has allowed legislators in some countries to claim the “railway bonus” when setting noise limits. This factor, which the International Union of Railways (UIC) would prefer us to call a “noise annoyance correction factor” (NACF), can be discounted from considerations of the effects of noise. So, for example, if legislation requires that road traffic noise should not exceed XdB, then the limit for conventional railway noise may be increased to (X+NACF)dB. The UIC reports that “most countries” that allow a NACF to be employed for railways have chosen 5dB as its value (see footnote 2).

Whilst the concept could, in theory, be applied in applications other than the setting of legal limits, it seems to have been mainly confined to that one application. The EU Environmental Noise Directive (49/2002/EC), for example, makes no distinction between the reporting levels for railway noise and noise from other sources. Since the UK currently sets no noise limits by legislation, the railway bonus is perhaps not a major issue in our country, and I have not been able to identify any railway projects where it has been claimed (see footnote 3).

It should be noted, in passing, that at least one authority refers to the “issue of railroad bonus [being] quite controversial” (see footnote 4), and that studies that have investigated sleep disturbance, rather than annoyance response, tend to find less support for a railway bonus being applied (see footnote 5). Some results from the Far East have failed to indicate that a railway bonus exists (see footnote 6); one theory that has been advanced for this is that people tend to live closer to railway lines there than in Europe (see footnote 7).

One feature of A1571(47) upon which both of our expert witnesses appear to agree is that the CDF curve for railway noise shown thereon relates only to conventional speeds and not to high speed trains. The significance of this is apparent in the International Standard ISO1996-1, where exercising a railway bonus of 3 to 6dB is permitted, but not in the case of “trains travelling in excess of 250 km/h” (see footnote 8). It was unfortunate that neither expert was able to fill the vacuum that this left by showing the Committee a CDF for the annoyance response to trains travelling at 360km/hr – it was confirmed by Mr Thornely-Taylor during cross-examination that “there’s not as much available about High Speed Rail, as there is for other transport modes” (see footnote 9). Indeed, there was a marked difference of opinion between Messrs Thornely-Taylor and Methold about where the annoyance curve for high speed trains might lie compared with the three curves that are shown on A1571(47).

When he gave his presentation on noise to the Select Committee in July 2014, Mr Thornely-Taylor prayed in aid the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) report produced for the Phase 1 Environmental Statement and, in particular, what he referred to as “Appendix A” – but I believe that he was actually referring to Appendix 4 of that document (see footnote 10). He claimed that this report showed that “the response to high speed rail is not materially different from the response to conventional rail” (see footnote 11).

Whilst Mr Thornely-Taylor did report correctly the main finding of the HIA appendix to the Select Committee, the report itself is severely criticised for the approach taken in this section by the submission made by the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) to the public consultation in February 2014 (see footnote 12), which singles out two shortcomings.

Firstly, HS2AA describes it as “a matter of concern” that the authors of the research review paper (see footnote 13) that is the mainstay of the discussion in the HIA are “HS2 Ltd Overview Consultants, working with the HS2 Acoustic Review group in association with Arup UK, ARM Acoustics UK and HS2 Ltd”. HS2AA expresses the opinion that “it is not acceptable that statements on noise which are presented as objective summaries of academic evidence are instead just recycled conclusions from HS2 Ltd’s own paid consultants” (see footnote 14).

Secondly, HS2AA claims that the conclusion drawn in the HIA that “studies report no difference in noise annoyance between traditional and high-speed rail for the same timetable frequency” is untrue and ignores a “comprehensively referenced work” that deduces that emission limits for high speed rail noise “should be stricter than that for conventional railway noise” (see footnote 15).

HS2AA accuses the HIA of “acknowledging the potential problem, appearing to review the research, but doing so highly selectively, then finding excuses why HS2 won’t be a problem” and comments that this tactic is “typical of the approach taken on noise” (see footnote 16).

For his part, Mr Methold also produced evidence to contradict Mr Thornely-Taylor’s optimism, but that will have to wait until my next posting in this series.

(To be continued …)


  1. The appearance spanned both the morning (video) and the afternoon (video) sessions of the HS2 Select Committee that were held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The Chiltern District Council was acting as lead for the HS2 Local Authority Noise Consortium.
  2. The railway noise bonus, Discussion paper on the noise annoyance correction factor (Final Report), International Union of Railways, UIC, November 2010. This report provides a comprehensive overview of the pros and cons of the railway bonus, albeit from the perspective of an organisation that supports the concept of implementing a NACF. For an explanation of why the UIC prefers the term NACF to be used, refer to the sidebar on page 9; the source of the comment about the value employed in most countries is the final paragraph on page 15.
  3. For example, the Noise and Vibration Mitigation Policy document for the Chiltern Railways Bicester to Oxford improvement scheme makes no mention of the railway bonus.
  4. Gjestland, T, Research on community response to noise – in the last five years, Proc. 9th Conference of the International Commission on Biological Effects of Noise (ICBEN), Foxwood 2008.
  5. For example, Öhrström, E, et al, Experimental studies on sleep disturbances due to railway and road traffic noise, Proc. 9th ICBEN, Foxwood 2008. This study concludes that “the overall results revealed no differences between nights with railway noise and nights with road traffic noise with the same sound levels”.
  6. Yano, T, et al, Dose-response relationships for road traffic, railway and aircraft noises in Kyushu and Hokkaido, Japan, Turkish Acoustical Society – 36thInternational Congress and Exhibition on Noise Control Engineering, Inter-Noise 2007 Istanbul (Vol. 6, pp. 3844-3851). I have been unable to find a free-access version of this paper on the Internet, but the abstract confirms the conclusion that “railway noise was a slightly more annoying than road traffic noise”.
  7. Lim, C, et al, The relationship between railway noise and community annoyance in Korea, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 120 (4), 2006.
  8. See Table A.1 and note a thereto in Annex A to ISO 1996 Acoustics – Description, measurement and assessment of environmental noise – Part 1: Basic quantities and assessment procedures, second edition, International Standards Organisation, 2003.
  9. See paragraphs 129 and 130 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  10. Appendix 4 (Health Evidence Base) to High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Health Impact Assessment, HS2 Ltd document ESA4.6, November 2013. The relevant section is 4.3
  11. See paragraph 47 of the transcript for the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Tuesday 8thJuly 2014.
  12. HS2: Phase 1 Environmental Statement Consultation, Submission by HS2 Action Alliance, HS2AA 27thFebruary 2014.
  13. Fenech, B, et al, Health effects from high-speed railway noise – a literature review, Proc Internoise 2013 (42ndInternational Congress and Exposition on Noise Control Engineering). I have been unable to find a free-access version of this paper on the Internet.
  14. The HS2AA quotes have been extracted from paragraphs 8.4.20 and 8.4.23 of the HS2AA submission to the ES consultation.
  15. The research paper is Guoqing, D, Lingjiao, H, Behavioural and plasma monoamine responses to high-speed railway noise stress in mice, Noise Health 2013; 15: pp 217-23. The quote from the HIA is in paragraph 4.3.2 and the HS2AA comments are extracted from paragraph 8.4.21 of the HS2AA submission to the ES consultation.
  16. See paragraph 8.4.17 of the HS2AA submission to the ES consultation.


I wish to thank Michael Woodhouse for his suggestions and comments, which I have found invaluable in preparing this series of blogs.

Exhibit A1571(47) has been extracted from the bundle of evidence submitted to the HS2 Select Committee by Rick Methold and published on the website of the HS2 Select Committee.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog have been taken are uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.



2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on March 5, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Peter will there be a 5th Anniversary reflection on the day Aarhus Committee is due to hear the HS2AA communication case C100. The Hybrid Bill Process was not appropriate as implemented for the project of this scale. The poor front end anaylsis was incomplete and lacked the optioneeing needed for such a complex undertaking within the UK rocks and villages. The nation had not the money for such land demanding high speed passenger services across part of the UK with so many requirements. Engineers from the past rank more visionary than todays elite few who are have not been supported by the rigour needed of delivery teams. With so many people suffering daily commutes HS2 stands high as the wrong project in the wonrg place at the wrong time.


    • Thanks Chris for alerting me to the upcoming Aarhus hearing. I must confess that HM Government’s successful appeal to delay the hearing from last year put this matter out of my mind. An item on the HS2AA website ( confirms the rescheduled hearing date as 10 March, which is, as you point out, also the fifth anniversary of the first posting on HS2 and the environment, so well observed on both counts.
      The HS2AA item also points out that, due to the rescheduling, the Compliance Committee’s decision will come after the Third Reading of the hybrid Bill takes place in the House of Commons and intimates that this is not entirely coincidental. I am reluctant to believe that HM Government would resort to such underhand tactics, but fear that past experience has taught me that such machinations are well within the capacity of our polity.
      As for my blogging plans, I have written a commemorate blog that will not appear until 13 March, due to the normal four-day cycle. However, this may disappoint as it is more a reflection on my own personal reaction to five years of blogging, rather than a diatribe against HS2. More to your liking may be a short series that will start on 17 March in which I will look at the shortcomings of the HS2 Select Committee’s final report and the process that led to it.
      Thanks for your continuing interest in HS2 and the environment.


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