Mann hält Bremsbacken einer Zugbremse

Railway noise halved by the close of 2020

Making an active contribution to reducing noise emissions is part of our corporate philosophy.


In a collaborative and globally networked economy transport services are vital and form the basis of our prosperous economy. As part of the interplay of all modes of transport, rail provides transport and logistics for the economic sector while also being the most environmentally friendly transport option. 

With a view to making rail transport even more environmentally friendly, Deutsche Bahn made a promise to cut rail noise in half between 2000 and 2020. 

This noise control target was reached on time in December 2020.

For instance, when it comes to infrastructure, Deutsche Bahn worked with support from the German Federal Government to perform noise abatement on 2,000 kilometres of its railway network in the last few years.

Furthermore, all of DB Cargo’s active freight wagons in Germany were converted to quieter braking systems. New wagons with quieter braking systems were also purchased.

DB Cargo wagons in Germany are quiet

Traditionally, freight wagons used cast-iron brake blocks to stop. These roughen the running surface of the wheels. The upshot here is that noise is produced when the vehicles roll. Composite brake pads, known as whisper brakes, on the other hand, keep the wheel surface smooth. This reduces the noise of passing trains by around 10 decibels, perceived by the human ear as a halving of the noise. 

In order to achieve the goal of halving rail noise, DB Cargo converted all freight wagons in Germany to whisper brakes and purchased new wagons with quiet braking systems. 

As a result, DB Cargo had more than 10,000 new quiet freight wagons with K brake blocks in service in Germany by the end of 2020.

Apart from procuring new wagons, converting the existing freight wagons posed a major challenge. By the time 2020 drew to a close, all of DB Cargo's roughly 50,000 freight wagons used in German transport had been outfitted with whisper brakes (largely type LL brakes).

The freight wagons that DB Cargo leased and used in Germany, including almost 3,000 with DB Cargo as wagon keeper, were also quiet by the end of 2020. 

The upgrade was quite a feat

In order for noise reduction to be achieved across the board, however, DB Cargo's freight wagons operating in Germany, including the 120,000 freight wagons currently owned by other wagon keepers (domestic and foreign wagon lessors and railways), needed to undergo brake block conversion or be replaced by new quiet wagons.

The federal government provided some EUR 150 million for the retrofitting of existing freight wagons operating in Germany. In addition to the national funding, there is also a limited subsidy available from the EU's Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) funding instrument.


Upgrading wagons is a strenuous economic challenge for the railway sector facing fierce intermodal competition with slim margins. This is because the public subsidy does not cover the higher operating costs of converted wagons. For example, brakes and wheel sets need to be inspected at shorter intervals. Wheelsets wear more quickly and need to be reprofiled more frequently, and LL brake blocks are considerably more expensive to replace than the old cast-iron brake blocks. 

Loud freight wagons have been barred from Germany since December 2020

Due to the Railway Noise Mitigation Act passed in 2017, operating noisy freight wagons in Germany has been generally prohibited as of 13 December 2020.

This makes it essential for DB Cargo and all other railways and wagon keepers to have and use sufficiently quiet wagons for transport in Germany. DB Cargo makes every effort here to ensure that environmentally friendly rail does not lose any transports. The main approach here is to execute reliable rail transport across borders by ensuring transport chains that only use quiet wagons. 

DB Cargo works closely with the service providers involved in its transport chains to implement this aspect.

Significant noise reductions realised for citizens

The measures taken to improve infrastructure and retrofit and use quiet freight wagons made it possible to achieve a comprehensive reduction in noise for people living near railway lines by the end of 2020.

The two strategic directions — noise protection infrastructure on site and noise reduction at the source — will be consistently pursued in the coming years. 

The next step is to reduce the noise for more than 800,000 residents living near railways by 2030, especially by addressing infrastructure. That's more than half of all residents who currently live along busy routes. 

When it comes to freight wagons, for example, studies are underway as to whether the findings of the Innovative Freight Wagon project can be used to further reduce noise, and if so, how. What's more, we will have reduced rail noise for all affected residents by 2050.

For more information on the 2030/2050 noise control target, see

Contact our expert now.

Bettina Wunsch-Semmler

Dr. Bettina Wunsch-Semmler

Head of Transport Policy and Compliance Officer