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We will halve rail traffic noise by 2020

Making an active contribution to protection from noise emissions is part of our company philosophy.

Transport services are vital in a collaborative and globally networked economy and are therefore a prerequisite for our prosperity. Rail freight traffic is the most environmentally friendly transport option here, but it needs to be quieter to maintain social acceptance. DB and DB Cargo have taken on this challenge.

As an eco-pioneer, Deutsche Bahn has set itself the objective of halving rail traffic noise by 2020, compared to the values from the year 2000. This can only be attained by applying different measures on roads and vehicles.

The railways have already accomplished a great deal where infrastructure is concerned and further comprehensive measures are planned. Approximately 1,800 of a total of 3,700 kilometres of track requiring noise remediation have already been treated within the scope of the federal government’s voluntary noise abatement programme. Approximately 740 kilometres of noise protection walls have been erected to this end (as at end of 2018) and approximately 60,650 residences have been equipped with passive noise protection. By 2020 noise-abatement measures will have been rolled out for a total of some 2,000 kilometres.

We are pursuing this noise remediation programme intensively. Innovative noise reduction technologies on the infrastructure were successfully tested in the second phase of the stimulus programme. The innovation process was continued in the second phase of the infrastructure acceleration programme and will also be continued in the coming years.

Already about 80 per cent of wagons quiet by the end of 2018

DB Cargo already had almost 8,500 new quiet goods wagons in use at the end of 2018. By the the end of 2020 a total of approximately 10,000 new quiet wagons with composite brake blocks will be operational.

In addition to the new procurement of wagons, conversion of the existing freight wagons poses a great challenge. The LL-type quiet composite brake block which can be used without the costly conversion of the brake system was approved in June 2013. All approximately 53,000 existing DB Cargo freight wagons awaiting conversion (and which do not to be taken out of service in the meantime) will be equipped with whisper brakes by 2020.

DB Cargo started the systematic conversion of the existing freight wagons in January 2014, six months after approval of the LL blocks. In total, approximately over 42,000 freight wagons had already been converted by the end of 2018. Consequently, DB Cargo had over 50,400 quiet active goods wagons, including the new quiet wagons, at the end of 2018.

Thus, approximately 80 per cent of the DB Cargo active wagon fleet was equipped with whisper brakes at the end of 2018. All wagons will be quiet by the end of 2020.

Conversion is and remains a feat of strength

In order to be able to attain comprehensive noise reduction, however, all freight wagons operating in Germany and thus also the approximately 120,000 existing freight wagons of other wagon keepers (domestic and foreign wagon lessors and railways) are to be converted to quiet brake blocks or replaced by new quiet wagons.

The federal government is providing a subsidy of approximately EUR 150 million for the conversion of the existing freight wagons operating in Germany. In addition, the DB network has introduced the noise-dependent route pricing system (LaTPS) as a financial incentive for converting wagons to quiet brake blocks. Train operating companies have been paying a premium on top of the track access charge for loud freight trains since June 2013. This has been billed at 5,54 per cent since December 2018 and must be paid unless the train is made up of at least 90 per cent quiet wagons. Conversely, the train operating companies receive a bonus for using converted quiet wagons. This part of the incentive system is therefore financed by the railway sector itself.

In addition to the national subsidy, there is also a limited subsidy from the European funds of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).

Conversion is an economic feat of strength for the railways sector in fierce intermodal competition with very narrow margins. While conversion itself is 50 per cent publically funded, the increased operating costs of converted wagons are not subsidised. Brakes and wheelsets need to be inspected at shorter intervals, wheelsets frequently need to be re-profiled and wear more quickly, and LL brake blocks are considerably more expensive to replace than the old cast-iron brake blocks. These increased operating costs will amount to approximately EUR 700 million for the entire railway sector by 2020. Improved funding would reduce the additional noise pollution produced by rail freight traffic and thus limit the deterioration of the sector's competitive position.

REASONS: Acoustic, technical and operational

The solution is to have smooth wheels on smooth rails. The industry has developed composite brake blocks driven by the railways. This whisper brake prevents the corrugation of the wheel's running surface. The whisper brake ensures smooth wheels during the journey via the smoothing effect when braking. Noise pollution from the passing train is considerably reduced if the wagons are equipped with composite brake blocks. In human perception, this is perceived as halving of the rolling noise.
The composite brake block has been internationally approved without restrictions since 2003. DB Cargo has been procuring new freight wagons with this brake block since provisional approval in 2001. Approximately 8300 new quiet wagons were already in use at DB Cargo at the end of 2017.
The braking system of a wagon must be specially designed on the composite brake block, which is simple to accomplish on new wagons. In the case of existing freight wagons, the braking system must be converted and re-approved in contrast at great expense when composite brake blocks are used. This is why the LL brake block was developed as (apart from a few exceptions) it can be installed in existing freight wagons without converting the braking system.

The consistent conversion of freight wagons with cast-iron brake blocks to composite brake blocks is necessary to enable the whisper brake to be fully effective along the rails. Complete conversion must be the objective for comprehensive noise reduction.

For rail freight traffic in Germany, this means that approximately 180,000 wagons need to be converted or replaced with new wagons, approximately one-third of which are at DB Cargo. In addition, a further 120,000 freight wagons requiring conversion belonging to private German and foreign wagon keepers and other railways that cover considerable distances operate on the German railway network.

Apart from the fact that at the start the focus was on the conversion of wagon designs which were affine to block trains, but limited in number, comprehensive noise reduction of trains can only be attained by comprehensive conversion due to the most diverse types of freight wagons owned by different railways and wagon keepers. A separate configuration of quiet wagons to quiet trains is not feasible in everyday train operations. It would necessitate comprehensive additional shunting capacities and shunting expenses and it is thus also not sensible from an environmental perspective due to empty journeys triggered.

In public and political discussion, operating requirements to be introduced at short notice are referred to time and again, such as speed limits or even night-time driving bans for freight trains. Due to the dedication of the sector, all German wagon keepers have pledged to convert all wagons by the end of 2020; regulatory specifications are neither necessary nor sensible.
These measures could threaten the existence of rail freight traffic. The capacity of the German railway system and thus the volume of freight traffic to be transported by rail would decrease considerably; a time-orientated servicing of transport demands to meet customer requirements and networked logistical offers for the economy would be made considerably more difficult or impossible. The intermodal competitiveness of the rails would deteriorate drastically. In the event of night-time driving bans, considerable conflicts would be foreseen with passenger trains in the daytime.