Meeting with Transport for NSW regarding the introduction of Environment Protection Licences (EPL) for rail freight operators.



At 1pm Thursday 13 Sept 2012 members of the Northern Rail Noise Committee met with Mr. Justin McGuire, Principal Manager, Freight Regulation Management and Mr. Bruce Dowdell Manager, Freight Emissions from Transport for NSW to discuss the introduction of EPLs as the measure for controlling wheel noise from freight trains.


Committee members from Beecroft / Cheltenham Civic Trust, Pennant Hills District Civic Trust, Cowan Rail Noise Steering Committee, Brooklyn Progress Assn and Koolewong/Tascott-Point Clare Progress Assn attended the meeting.



To open the meeting Transport for NSW distributed 6 pages of speaking notes.


This is an overview of the main discussions:-


It was explained that following the April 2012 meeting at Brooklyn, where the original submissions were made for the introduction of EPLs that work had commenced on several fronts by Transport for NSW regarding the control of wheel squeal.


Trials of noise mitigation had been conducted at Beecroft in July /August 2012 using not only TORFMA but other methods of applying different types of friction modifying agents to the rail tracks.


A noise monitoring program embracing the immediate “before and after” effects of the new rail lubricating agents had been completed and we were advised that early results appeared most promising. 


With direct reference to the speaking notes, it was explained that a more focused action program had been developed for reducing noise at the source, minimizing the risk of increasing rail noise from new developments such as, the 3rd line program at Beecroft and reducing noise levels caused by wagons and locomotives at areas already affected by rail noise.


Representatives responded by stating that while “reducing noise at its Source” was commendable it failed to address the dominate factor “of treating the noise at its Cause”.


Representatives explained that the Cause of wheel squeal was widely accepted as being due to poorly maintained freight wagons and that simply trying to reduce noise through the use of lubrication agents was to treat the symptom rather than the Cause. RailCorp’s failure to control wheel squeal had relied on this principle.


In response Transport for NSW stated that it was working with industry in wanting to bring about change. What appeared from this statement is that Transport for NSW was adopting a Co-operative model of Management rather than Regulatory Control.


When questioned about this observation Transport for NSW responded by saying that EPLs had not been discounted as a control mechanism but at this point in time, it was not the primary focus.


They advised that more needed to be done on the source of wheel squeal and what measures needed to be taken to combat it, rather than how regulations alone might provide a solution.


The development of better rail lubricating processes which could be used to reduce noise levels in areas along the Rail lines with curves, which currently experience acute levels of rail noise, needed greater attention.


In this regard we were advised that the University of Wollongong through its Co-operative Research Center had been engaged to investigate aspects of noise and vibration associated with the rail industry and that tenders had been called for the independent monitoring of rail noise.


The freight industry had already responded favourably to this present arrangement of dealing with the wheel squeal problem. Also, greater recognition was being given by the industry that better wagon maintenance minimizes wear and tear and reduces operating costs.


All freight operators at the moment being 19 different ones were now included in the feedback program of noisy wagon detection at Beecroft whereas before only the two major operators were involved namely National Pacific and QR.


Some Reps with experience in the road freight industry pointed out that like every other sector of the transport/freight industry which is privately owned that it is “profit driven” and therefore there was always the likelihood that short cuts or lower standards of maintenance could also be employed as a cost saving measure.


The conversation was then directed to the question of, how the public might be assured that this maintenance was being done properly. Unanimously the Representatives promoted the argument that only by way of industry regulation through Environment Protection Licences could this be achieved.


Transport for NSW responded by saying that through joint co-operation to solve the problem that this could result in a Win, Win, Win outcome for all parties involved i.e.


  • avoid the cost to Government of formulating regulations (like EPLs) and having to monitor and enforce them,


  • reduce operating costs for freight companies by being responsive to timely and proper repairs and


  • benefit the community at large, by major reduction in the incidence and affect of wheel squeal by application of better rail lubricating devices.


When closing the meeting, an assurance was sought from and subsequently given by Transport for NSW, that regulatory control like EPLs would not be overlooked in the final determination of how to control freight noise.


After the meeting, representatives on the Northern Rail Noise Committee met informally and unanimously agreed that EPLs should be woven into the freight management protocol.


Representative’s claim that, if the desired response from the operators can be gained by the Co-operative model of management---- i.e. industry doing the right thing-------then arguably there can be no cause for freight operators or Transport for NSW to be overly concerned if, in fact, EPLs are introduced.


Comment: You the residents affected by excessive freight train noise want more than “handshake agreements” between Government and Industry. Such agreements tend to slide back to industry self regulation. After all, it is due to this situation that we have the current problem.

Recommendation: Residents please keep on complaining about excessive freight train noise to our local State MPs, the Minister for Transport or Transport of NSW until we reach our goal EPLs for Rail transport operators.


The meeting closed at 3pm.


A tentative arrangement for the next meeting has been set for mid February 2013.


Fred Beringer