Key changes to the Rail Infrastructure Noise Guideline
Overview of the guideline
The Interim guideline for the assessment of noise from rail infrastructure projects (IGANRIP) was published in 2007. Its purpose was to assist the ongoing expansion of rail transport by streamlining approval processes for rail infrastructure while ensuring that potential noise and vibration impacts are assessed in a consistent way and minimised as far as possible. It focuses on managing the additional noise impacts stemming from redevelopment of rail lines or new rail lines. It does not address mitigation of noise and vibration impacts from existing rail operations − other initiatives are being pursued to mitigate these; see Appendix 1 of the Rail infrastructure noise guideline.
The proposed changes to the guideline arose from consultation with transport, planning, infrastructure construction and rail agencies. Advice from the broader community is now sought prior to finalising the guideline.
The key proposed changes are outlined here.
1. The name of the guideline has been changed
The revised guideline will be called the Rail infrastructure noise guideline (RING).
2. Clarification of noise ‘trigger levels’
The noise trigger-levels for rail projects in IGANRIP are not mandatory goals that must be achieved and this has not changed. Section 3.1 clarifies that if the noise trigger levels are likely to be exceeded, the noise impact assessment must demonstrate what feasible and reasonable mitigation measures have been considered to reduce noise down towards these trigger levels.
3. Definitions of ‘new’ and ‘redeveloped’ rail lines have been simplified
The definitions in the interim guideline for ‘new’ or ‘redeveloped’ rail line projects are based on a receiver’s exposure to rail noise before a project is proposed, not whether the project is for a new line or a redevelopment. This has produced inequitable outcomes. Cases have emerged where some homes further away from a rail project have been eligible for noise mitigation, while dwellings closer to a line (and already exposed to high noise levels) were not eligible because their predicted future exposure did not increase by more than two decibels.
The revised definitions of a ‘new’ or ‘redeveloped’ project in Section 1.4 clarify that the appropriate noise trigger depends on the existing land use prior to the project, not the receiver’s current exposure to rail noise. This is because it is possible to apply a greater range of noise prevention and mitigation options during the planning stages for new rail projects in greenfields (or on land that has not previously had a rail line) than it is for projects in existing rail corridors. This would result in a uniform approach to affected noise receivers in the same noise catchment.
4. New guidance on disused rail lines
Additional guidance is proposed for infrastructure projects involving a heavy rail line being brought back into operation after a period of disuse (see section 1.4.2 ‘redeveloped rail line’). This issue is important because land-use patterns can change while the rail line is not being used.
The proposed guidance clarifies that rail noise on such lines should be considered in the same way as for redeveloped lines − unless the track is substantially realigned. If the track is substantially realigned, there may be opportunities to consider additional noise mitigation options that would not be possible if the track remained in its original place. Hence, realigned sections would need to be designed according to the more stringent ‘new line’ triggers.
Note that if no works are involved in re-opening the disused track, the guideline would not apply. The track owner must still comply with any relevant conditions under its environment protection licence.
5. Residential encroachment
Additional guidance is proposed (see section 1.4.3) to address residential encroachment near a rail corridor. In such cases it is necessary to determine whether developers or track owners are responsible for mitigating noise on impacted residences. Circumstances include when a line comes back into use or when a rail line is planned alongside land that is to be developed for housing or other uses sensitive to noise.
6. Change ‘in any hour’ assessment to day/night periods
The interim guideline requires an assessment to be made of possible mitigation measures if a project:
Practical application of the interim guideline showed that the requirement to assess changes in any hour is impractical and onerous. Consequently it has not been considered when preparing environmental assessments. In many cases, the data are not available to assess this, particularly when forecasting train movements 10 years into the future.
It is proposed instead to assess the magnitude of any increase in noise levels assessed over the 15-hour ‘day’ time and 9-hour ‘night’ time periods rather than ‘in any hour’ (see Table 1).
7. Exclude horn noise
It is proposed to exclude horn noise when determining the maximum noise levels from rail projects because these are used as part of safe operating procedures. This is also consistent with recently revised guidelines in both South Australia and Western Australia.
The guideline recommends that a noise impact assessment should still consider the impacts of horn noise and whether other strategies can be implemented to avoid it. (see Appendix 6). Note that train horn noise has been the subject of a pollution reduction program on the Rail Corporation’s environment protection licence.
8. Minor works
Under the interim guideline, some redevelopment work is exempted on the ground that it is minor work, including installing crossings, siding loops etc.
The revised guideline clarifies that all rail infrastructure projects should be assessed to consider if they are likely to exceed the noise trigger levels and, if so, to assess feasible and reasonable mitigation measures (see section 1.4.3).
9. Include noise trigger levels for light rail infrastructure proposals
Trigger levels for light rail projects are specified in the revised guideline. Light rail projects are defined in section 1.4.2 and the trigger levels for light rail projects are provided in Table 2.
10. Rail traffic generating developments
Current noise trigger levels for assessing non-rail land-use developments (e.g. mining and extractive industries) that are likely to generate additional rail traffic are published on OEH’s website. It is proposed to incorporate these trigger levels into the revised guideline.
The trigger levels have been brought into line with current rail noise policy by replacing the older 24-hour noise descriptor with separate day/night descriptors (see Appendix 2).
Comments and submissions on the revised Rail infrastructure noise guideline should be directed to:
Noise Policy Section
Office of Environment and Heritage
Department of Premier and Cabinet
PO Box A290
Sydney South 1232
or emailed to email@example.com
Submissions close 5 pm Friday, 30 March 2012.
Page last updated: 12 July 2012