Gladiatorial games, part 20

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 19, posted on 5 Mar 2016).

As I mentioned at the end of part 19, the expert acoustician for Chiltern District Council, Rick Methold, devoted a section of the evidence that he presented to the HS2 Select Committee to taking the Members through a series of authorities who “disagree” with the Promoter’s expert, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, that “the [annoyance] response to high speed rail is not materially different from the response to conventional rail” (see footnote 1).

Mr Methold told the Committee that he had “a problem with” the HS2 Ltd view that “there isn’t any substantive evidence, which says that they should treat high speed rail noise any differently to conventional rail noise” and pointed to “a number of publications world-wide, where people take more precaution on that point” that he identified on a sequence of six slides (see footnote 2).

On the first slide he showed an extract from the Government’s own WebTAG transport analysis guidance with the following words, referring to the annoyance response that has been employed therein, highlighted (see footnote 3):

“… based on data gathered in past decades and further research is needed to assess the annoyance response to different sources of transport noise such as: i) high speed rail, which produces a significantly different spectrum of noise than conventional rail …”

He told the Committee that the WebTAG guidance is about to be updated and that the paragraph that he had quoted was “still in there”. He concluded that the need for further research in high speed rail annoyance is “very much still on the Government’s radar, agenda” (see footnote 4).

He then showed the Committee an extract from the World Health Organisation’s Guidelines for Community Noise, which he skipped over with the comment that it “makes a very similar observation”. The extract refers to the “special noise problems” that are created by high speed trains, where the sound can “be perceived as similar to that of overflying aircraft” (see footnote 5).

Mr Methold’s third slide in this sequence {A1571(50)} reproduces figures gleaned from a table given in a research paper from Zhejiang University (China) of noise limits that apply to railway noise in a number of countries. These data indicate that the named countries apply increased limits, of between 3dB and 10dB, for high speed trains compared to conventional trains; Mr Methold referred to this as a “precautionary approach, taken by other rail operators”. What he might have also told the Committee is that the original research that is reported in the same paper indicates the same annoyance response is produced when conventional train noise is approximately 7dB higher than high speed train noise (see footnote 6).

Mr Methold rather skipped over the information that is shown on his exhibit A1571(51):

  • He referred to the International Union of Railways (UIC) report that I referenced in footnote 2 to part 18 of this blog series. His slide claims that the UIC report “shows that France considers annoyance from high speed rail noise to be equivalent to road traffic” – what the report claims, in fact, is that the noise annoyance correction factor (NACF), which may be claimed at 3dB for conventional rail, has 0dB value for high speed rail (see footnote 7).
  • His exhibit mentions “Chinese research papers”, but he said that he wouldn’t “dwell on that”, so we never got to find out which papers he had in mind or how he thought they support the case that he was making (footnote 8).
  • He also referred to the “INRETS TGV-A study”, but again failed to identify the findings or how these reflected on his argument (see footnote 9).
  • He noted that the HS2 Acoustics Review Group AGC) had raised the issue of how to deal with “tonal features that may be associated with high speed trains” at its first meeting; according to Mr Methold this issue had also been raised “repeatedly thereafter” at subsequent AGC meetings. He told the Committee that he was “not entirely sure” what the reference in the minutes to “secondary indicators meant – neither am I – but added that he was certain that “they haven’t been used on HS2, [because] that’s been confirmed in [CDC’s] petition management meetings” (see footnote 10).

Mr Methold’s next exhibit, A1571(52) covered the point that I mentioned in part 19 of this blog series, that in its standard ISO 1996 the International Standards Organisation does not allow for a NACF to be applied in the case of “trains travelling in excess of 250 km/h”. He told the Committee that “the standard is going through a revision at the moment” and that this revision would include “even more severe comments about penalties that should be applied to high speed rail” (see footnote 11).

The final item of evidence that Mr Methold placed before the Committee was an extract from the European Environment Agency (EEA) technical report that he also cited as evidence when discussing the point at which the onset of the observed adverse effects of noise occurs (see part 17 of this blog series). Referring to some annoyance response CDFs for rail noise curves reproduced in the report (as Figure 3.2) the text warns that the “particular characteristics” of the noise “may have an influence”, and gives the particular example of “high speed” meaning that the “relations could be shifted” (i.e. the annoyance CDF could follow a different curve).

(To be continued …)


  1. The relevant section on Mr Methold’s evidence is reported in paragraphs 312 to 347 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The accompanying exhibits are A1571(46) to A1571(54) in CDC’s evidence pack. The authorities that Mr Methold claims “disagree with HS2’s position” are listed on exhibit A1571(46). I reported Mr Thornely-Taylor’s view in part 19 of this blog series, and referenced the source in footnote 11 thereto.
  2. See paragraph 313 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The six slides are exhibits A1571(48) to A1571(53).
  3. For the source of the quoted text refer to paragraph 2.2.22 in the Department for Transport document TAG Unit A3 Environmental Impact Appraisal, November 2013.
  4. See paragraph 331 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  5. See exhibit A1571(49) and paragraph 332 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The source is the third paragraph of section 2.2.2 of Guidelines for Community Noise, World Health Organisation, Geneva 1999.
  6. The paper is Guo-Qing, D, et al, Annoyance and activity disturbance induced by high-speed railway and conventional railway noise: a contrastive case study, Environmental Health 2014, 13 (12). Mr Methold’s comments are reported in paragraph 333 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  7. See Table 2 in the UIC report that is referenced in full in footnote 2 to part 18 of this blog series.
  8. At least one Chinese research paper that Mr Methold had in mind is surely the one referenced in footnote 6, above; this paper encompasses at least two of the three topics that Mr Methold’s exhibit identifies.
  9. The study is the subject of the paper Lambert, J, et al, Impact du bruit sur les riverants du TGV Atlantique (Impact of noise on residents of the TGV A railway line), Institut de l’Information Scientifique et Technique, 1995. I have been unable to locate a free-issue copy of this French-language paper on the Internet.
  10. See minute 6.6 in Acoustics Review Group Meeting#1 minutes, Friday 22ndJune 2012. Mr Methold’s comments are recorded in paragraph 335 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4th November 2015.
  11. 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. Mr Methold’s comments are recorded in paragraph 340 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  12. See section 3.1 of the publication Good practice guide on noise exposure and potential health effects, EEA Technical report No 11/2010. Mr Methold’s comments are recorded in paragraph 341 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4th November 2015.

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

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog have been taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is 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.


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