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Northern Line tube racket like being at a rock concert

Passengers resorting to covering their ears on sections where the loudest screeching occurs

17 January, 2019 — By Samantha Booth

New Journal reporter Samantha Booth in Camden Town tube station

NORTHERN line passengers are being exposed to ear-splitting noise that is equivalent in volume to a live rock concert, a New Journal investigation can reveal.

Tube passengers have resorted to covering their ears on sections of the track where the loudest screeching occurs, which our tests confirm include journeys into Camden Town station.

Transport for London (TfL) said this week it was trying to muffle the racket.

The shocking sound levels were confirmed when we took a sound meter underground this week and recorded noise of up to 109.5 decibels on one of the worst stretches, Euston to Camden Town, comparable to amplified music at a gig.

Dr Joe Sollini, an auditory researcher from University College London’s Ear Institute, has also probed the impact of the noise on passengers’ hearing and said the route is one of the loudest on the underground.

“My own measurements last year demonstrated it is ranked second on peak loudness and on average the fourth loudest in the zone 2 area,” he said.

“While it is presently unclear whether this journey – twice a day – would be sufficient to cause long-lasting hearing loss, the most conservative criteria would suggest avoiding this level of exposure.”

TfL said that the noise levels customers are exposed to on the tube are within Health and Safety Executive regulations. Drivers on the line, however, have been offered ear plugs or other protection.

Finn Brennan, rail union ASLEF’s district organiser, said the issue has arisen from a new rail maintenance system that reduces noise and vibrations at street level – and in people’s homes – but increases noise for drivers and passengers on trains.

“ASLEF health and safety reps have insisted that ear defenders are provided for drivers to ensure their hearing isn’t damaged by long-term exposure to
these noise levels,” said Mr Brennan.

“We will be monitoring the results of the work to reduce noise levels being done by London Underground.”

Peaks of 109 decibels were also measured from Kentish Town to Tufnell Park, and 108 decibels from Kentish Town to Camden Town.

The peak reading between Euston and Camden Town 

Dr Sollini said: “Those that make longer commutes on the Northern, Victoria, Jubilee or Central lines should take particular care. Daily commutes of around 30 to 45 minutes are sufficient to cause long-lasting and irreversible hearing loss.”

He added: “It is unrealistic to expect people to avoid using the tube, it’s far too convenient. But people can still protect themselves while on it. Easy ways to do this are to use noise- cancelling headphones or ear defenders.”

As well as on the tube, people living in Camden have been complaining about an apparent increase in noise levels below their home that is most noticeable during the night.

Peter McNaught, London Underground’s Director of Asset Operations, said: “We understand the importance of minimising noise levels on the tube and are determined to do more to achieve this.

“We are aware of an issue on the Northern line around Camden Town and we are installing new noise- dampening rail pads in the area to try to reduce noise levels.”

He added: “We spend approximately £150million per year on a continuous programme of track improvement and maintenance.

“We have carried out rail grinding on hundreds of kilometres of track and installed over 16,000 new resilient track fixings which help reduce the sound when trains run over them.”

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