Concern over impact of Tube noise on Londoners’ health

Concerns have been raised about the health impacts of noise caused by the London Underground  (AFP via Getty Images)
Concerns have been raised about the health impacts of noise caused by the London Underground (AFP via Getty Images)

Concerns have been raised about the damaging health impacts of noise caused by Tube trains.

In a letter to Transport for London (TfL), a cross-party group of politicians at City Hall warned that long-term exposure to Tube noise can contribute to sleep disturbance, heart disease, tinnitus, and impaired cognitive development in children.

The London Assembly’s environment committee, made up of Assembly Members (AMs) from every political party at City Hall, have been investigating the problem for several months.

Zack Polanski - a Green AM and the committee’s chair throughout its investigation - pointed out in his letter to TfL commissioner Andy Lord that ‘environmental noise’ has been recognised by the World Health Organisation as the second largest environmental health risk in western Europe, behind air quality.

“Tube noise has been a persistent issue in London with serious consequences for residents,” said Mr Polanski.

“1,341 Tube noise complaints were made between January 2020 and August 2022. These numbers include both in-carriage complaints made about sound levels inside the trains and residential complaints from nearby properties.”

He added that while in-carriage noise can be louder over a shorter period, in-dwelling noise is repeated every few minutes throughout the day and all night long on Fridays and Saturdays when the Night Tube is running.

Green AM Zack Polanski (London Assembly)
Green AM Zack Polanski (London Assembly)

Independent research looking at in-carriage Tube noise between 2006 and 2019 found that passengers routinely experienced noise levels of over 80 dBA - classed by TfL as “hazardous” - and were sometimes subjected to more than 100 dBA, which Mr Polanski said was comparable to “chain saws, rivet hammers and even an aircraft taking off.”

Neil Smith, a Tube noise campaigner who lives near the Victoria line in Islington, told the committee about the negative impact caused “by 72 trains per hour (36 in each direction) i.e., more than one a minute”, saying: “Some residents were registering close to +/-60 decibels, equivalent to a vacuum cleaner in the room with you.”

In their letter, the committee asks TfL to make data on Tube noise more transparent for Londoners on their website, as well as continuing to improve its complaints process.

TfL has also been asked to provide updates on solutions it is exploring to reduce both residential and in-carriage tube noise for all Londoners.

Esther Sharples, TfL’s director of asset performance and capital delivery, said in response to the committee’s letter: “We understand the importance of minimising noise levels on the Tube itself and in surrounding areas for our customers, staff and neighbours. This is a priority and we are determined to achieve this.

“We’ve been working to improve noise and vibration issues and have made a number of improvements, including removing insulated rail joints, which removes a source of noise, and improving the condition of the track.

“We continue to invest significantly in track renewal and maintenance, including a continuous programme of rail grinding and track modernisation.”

Concerns have been raised about Tube noise at several hotspots across the city, such as the ‘Kingsbury curve’ of the Jubilee line - between Wembley Park and Kingsbury stations - where residents have long complained about “screeching” sounds so loud they’re unable to hold conversations in their own gardens.