The issue of rail noise concerns both the transport of passengers and freight, but it is much acute for freight wagons. The rolling noise of wagons results, firstly, from the roughness of the surface of wheel and rail and secondly, from the type of tracks the wagon is rolling on. Effective reduction can be best achieved by addressing both elements in parallel. Core measures include "silent brakes" (composite brake blocks) and acoustic grinding of tracks.
The rail noise has also its interoperability dimension as country-specific restrictions on noisy wagons without addressing the issue in a wider context could potentially undermine competitiveness of railway sector vis-à-vis other transport modes. The Commission is aware of the importance of the issue of rail noise and takes it very seriously. A number of initiatives have already been adopted at the EU level in order to reduce noise exposure and to set common standards.
Railway rolling stock has been required to meet certain noise emission limits since 2006. This obligation, applicable only to newly built wagons, was introduced under the Railway Interoperability Directive through an implementing act better known as a technical specification for interoperability (TSI) on noise, adopted by the Commission in 2005 and amended several times thereafter. However, as the lifespan of freight wagons can be 40 years or more, the renewal rate of the entire fleet is slow, at an average of 2-3 % per year. This is the main reason why it will take at least until 2030 to renew the entire EU fleet and reduce the current excessive noise levels, unless old wagons are retrofitted with composite brake blocks.
In order to speed-up progress, in 2008 the Commission adopted a Communication on rail noise abatement measures addressing the existing fleet , as part of the 'greening transport' package. It announced a legal proposal to introduce noise-differentiated track access charges (NDTAC) as an economic incentive for retrofitting freight wagons with composite brake blocks. The replacement of cast iron brake blocks with innovative composite brake blocks is deemed to be the most efficient way of significantly reducing the noise generated by freight wagons. Using these blocks can reduce noise levels by up to 10 dB, which means halving them in terms of human perception.
Directive 2012/34/EU foresees an optional introduction of noise-differentiated track access charges (NDTAC); the relevant Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/429 setting out the modalities to be followed for the application of the charging for the cost of noise effects was adopted on 13 March 2015. It harmonises the charging principles and thus encourages more Member States to introduce noise charging, which would provide more incentives for the sector to retrofit.
The costs linked with retrofitting have been hampering railway undertakings and wagon owners from achieving a faster pace of progress. In addition to the estimated € 1688 attributed on average to retrofitting each freight wagon, stakeholders have noted substantial life-cycle costs related to the usage of retrofitted wagons. To assist the sector in meeting these high costs and maintain the competitiveness of the rail sector, the Commission has proposed to co-fund a part of these costs at the Union level. This approach was formalised in Regulation (EU) No 1316/2013 establishing the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) which allows 20 % of co-funding for the eligible costs of retrofitting existing freight wagons with composite brake blocks. The EU assistance is distributed through calls, running from 2014 until 2020; the first call 'noise' took place in 2014, the next one will be launched in 2016/2017.
Finally, on 22 December 2015 the Commission services have adopted a Commission Staff Working Document (SWD) on rail freight noise reduction . This SWD provides a review of existing measures aimed at effective reduction of rail noise of freight wagons and an analysis of additional possible solutions that might be considered in the years to come.