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Noise impacts report released

posted Oct 19, 2011, 11:20 PM by Site Editor   [ updated Oct 20, 2011, 1:34 AM ]
The long-awaited RRL 'Noise Impact Assessment Report' was released yesterday (19th Oct) following the decision by the Minister for Planning that the report satisfies the conditions set by the former Minister for Planning in his decision of 7 October 2010.

The report concludes that noise barriers would be an effective mitigation measure, reducing noise levels by up to 12dB. Noise barriers are a proven and robust means of noise control and are used for railway noise mitigation in Europe, Asia and other states in Australia. The report costs noise barriers at between $21m and $50m, depending upon the particular solution implemented. This represents a relatively small expenditure in relation to the total RRL project budget of $5.3 billion.

However, in the absence of Victorian policy on railway noise emissions, the report determines that RRLA will not include noise barriers or any additional noise mitigation measures because the RRL project is not responsible for existing noise emissions in the rail corridor. In effect, the Government and Department of Transport are 'slicing and dicing' the rail noise issue to allocate noise on a per-project basis. With this approach, no authority is responsible for corridor noise levels as a whole. For the people enduring the problem, the splitting of noise calculations is meaningless - noise is noise.

The report references the recently released Victorian government draft 'Framework for Noise from Future Passenger Rail Investments in Victoria', a 'principles-based' framework intended to inform the management of noise emissions from future passenger rail projects. This draft framework is welcome as a starting point for a Victorian policy, but it is certainly inadequate as it stands if it hasn't served to mandate a proper level of noise mitigation for the RRL project. The draft framework continues the pattern of treating noise as a per-project or per-service attribute by excluding consideration of non-passenger train noise emissions.

In 2012, 733 Footscray properties adjacent to the rail alignment are predicted to experience noise levels which exceed the NSW guideline limits, while 519 properties are predicted to exceed the Queensland limits.  With peak noise levels already up to 105dB and increased levels expected in line with increased train traffic, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that, 'In Footscray, for the most exposed residents, a vast majority of the population will experience chronic noise-induced sleep disturbance, with very significant proportions 'highly disturbed.  For the most exposed residents in other areas, almost half the community will experience chronic noise-induced sleep disturbance.' 

The Victorian Government is once again treating Footscray residents as second-class citizens. Other states have adopted rail noise standards, freeways in Victoria are built with extensive noise barriers, even the RRL tracks in Wyndham Vale will be dug into a cutting to prevent noise. Why should Footscray residents be treated differently?

Importantly, the report does not close the door on the possibility of implementing proper noise mitigation measures, 'A noise barrier scenario may nevertheless be feasible for RRL1. However, in the absence of a settled Government policy which provides guidance on what noise barriers are appropriate in the context of RRL1, RRLA has not incorporated noise barriers into the Reference Design. However, this does not exclude the provision of noise barriers in the future by RRLA or a third party. Once the outcome of further policy development in this area is known, further consideration of the feasibility of installing noise barriers may be considered by Government.'

We can only hope that the Victorian government and the Department of Transport take heed of the more enlightened approaches on rail noise found overseas and within Australia. The NSW rail noise guidelines are a good place to start... "The growth of our rail transport network brings many benefits to the wider community but is accompanied by other factors such as increased train movements, extended rail operating periods and residential development along transport routes. These impacts need to be managed and balanced against protecting the amenity and wellbeing of the local community living beside rail lines." NSW Interim Guideline for the Assessment of Noise from Rail Infrastructure Projects.

We urge the government to provide the policy direction necessary to protect Victorian communities (the Footscray community in the immediate instance) in the process of expanding rail services. Solving this problem now will allow rail projects to move ahead in the future in greater cooperation with local communities.

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