Gladiatorial games, part 21

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 20, posted on 9 Mar 2016).

At the end of the section of his evidence considering the need for caution when assessing the annoyance resulting from noise from high speed trains, Rick Methold summed up the position of Chiltern District Council (CDC), lead authority on airborne noise representing the Local Authority Noise Consortium, by showing the HS2 Select Committee his exhibit A1571(54). He didn’t really speak to this slide – as we know Sir Peter Bottomley can read faster than any of us can speak and discouraged witnesses from reading what appears on the screens before the Committee – so I will attempt to provide my own summary of Mr Methold’s position.

The nub of what Mr Methold told the Committee is that the current state of knowledge from research on this topic did not allow definitive conclusions to be reached, and that HS2 Ltd agreed that this was the case. Mr Methold referred to there not being “an optimum amount of information on high speed rail dose response” (see footnote 1). It is hoped, however, that more knowledge will come to light as the HS2 project evolves, and that the nominated undertaker will take account of any developments to correct the information on noise effects that has been published to date. In the meantime, in the light of this dearth of conclusive knowledge, Mr Methold opined that the precautionary principle should apply. He expressed the view that the setting of noise thresholds and limits for high speed trains was “treated more cautiously by other high speed railway operators and promoters” than had been the case for the HS2 project.

This topic received another, albeit brief, airing when CDC’s counsel, Gwion Lewis, was given the opportunity to cross-examine the Promoter’s expert acoustics witness, Rupert Thornely-Taylor. The exchange kicked off with Mr Thornely-Taylor being asked to confirm Mr Methold’s point that on the “question of annoyance from high speed trains” there is not as much information “available about high speed rail, as there is for other transportation modes” and that there were no plans on the part of the UK Government to commission research into this topic. Mr Thornely-Taylor was able to signify his agreement to both of these assertions (see footnote 2).

The promoter’s expert also appeared to agree that assessing the annoyance response to high speed train noise was an area where caution should be exercised, but pointed out that HS2 Ltd had not “claimed the rail bonus” for the work that it had done (see footnote 3).

Whilst Mr Thornely-Taylor did not explicitly make the claim, the implication of what he said is that assuming that the annoyance response for HS2 would be the same as for road traffic was sufficiently precautionary. The relevant question becomes, therefore, “is he correct?”

Turning that question on its head, I think that it would have been unsupportable if HS2 Ltd had claimed a noise annoyance correction factor (NACF). The percentage values of the annoyance response curves for road and conventional rail differ very little at the proposed LOAEL threshold levels, and ISO 1996 specifically states that you shouldn’t claim a NACF for high speed rail (see footnote 4). Mr Thornely-Taylor, it appears, can also claim the support of the French; as Mr Methold told us, the precautionary measure taken there when dealing with high speed rail has also been not to claim a NACF. On the other hand, the Zhejiang University research paper that I reference in footnote 6 to part 20 of this blog series, would appear to suggest that the French have not gone far enough, since that research indicates that the annoyance response for high speed rail is 7dB worse than conventional rail consistently across the range of levels.

It’s quite hard to take sides on this one, and it is most unfortunate – or perhaps I mean shameful – that the Government appears not to be prepared to be proactive in trying to bring more certainty into the debate, by ensuring that some new research papers on this topic from some of our well-renowned centres of learning become available in the not-too-distant future. A project the size of HS2 should be endowed with a large research budget, and this does not appear to be the case, sadly.

Mr Methold appears to be pinning his hopes on some future breakthrough that will prove definitive justification that a “penalty correction” should be applied to the calculations made to date, and that the nominated undertaker will apply such a correction under the terms of the assurance that has been given, and which I reported in part 2 of this blog series, that the project will “account for any new High Speed railway noise research during detailed design”.

I guess that time will tell, but I still harbour the doubts on this score that I expressed in part 2; somehow I think that we might see hell freeze over first.

(To be continued …)


  1. See paragraph 342 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The text of this paragraph contains an error. Comparison with the video (at 11:24hrs) reveals that what Mr Methold said is that “there isn’t an optimum amount of information on high speed rail dose response”.
  2. See paragraphs 129 to 132 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  3. See paragraphs 137 and 138 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  4. For more on ISO 1996 please refer to part 20 of this blog series.


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

Exhibit A1571(54) 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.



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on April 17, 2016 at 8:50 am

    Better compare with airshows and airports as noise and quiet periods better representation.


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