LCQ16: Noise problem arising from railway operation

     Following is a question by the Hon James To Kun-sun and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, at the Legislative Council meeting today (January 5):


     I have recently received complaints from members of the public about the serious noise problem arising from the operation of trains along a rail section of Mongkok East Station near Yim Po Fong Street.  They have also pointed out that MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) has already retrofitted noise barriers for the rail section along Peace Avenue, but it has not retrofitted such barriers for the section along Yim Po Fong Street.  I have subsequently checked with MTRCL, which has indicated that Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) conducted a study in 1993 and installed noise barriers at a number of locations.  However, MTRCL has not explained why it has not retrofitted noise barriers along Yim Po Fong Street.  Moreover, I have learnt that MTRCL is carrying out noise barrier retrofitting works to the north of Olympic Station.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the respective numbers of complaints received by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), MTRCL (including KCRC and the former Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Corporation) and other government departments in the past five years which involved noise generated from railway operation; among such complaints, of the number of those confirmed to have involved noise levels exceeding the statutory standards specified in the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines (HKPSG), with a breakdown by year and rail section;

(b) whether the Government has collated statistics on the number of existing rail sections of MTRCL with noise levels exceeding the statutory standards; of the approximate decibel measurements by which the standards have been exceeded, with a breakdown by rail section;

(c) whether it knows the number and outcome of investigations conducted by MTRCL (including KCRC and the former MTR Corporation) after 1993 on noise problems arising from operation, and whether any noise barrier has been retrofitted for the existing railway lines having regard to the outcome of the investigations; if so, of the details of those projects;

(d) whether various departments such as EPD and the Highways Department, etc., had discussed with MTRCL in the past five years about mitigating the noise problem along railway lines; if they had, of the proposals and efforts actually taken to mitigate noise; whether the Government knows if MTRCL has planned to carry out the projects concerned, including the installation of noise barriers;

(e) whether it knows the factors based on which MTRCL at present decides if noise barriers should be installed; whether the Government has discussed reviewing the guidelines concerned with MTRCL;

(f) given that HKPSG stipulates that "shielding is only effective if it breaks the line-of-sight from the window of a sensitive use to the rail sources", whether the Government knows why KCRC merely retrofitted noise barriers for the rail section along Peace Avenue then but did not do so for the section along Yim Po Fong Street; and

(g) whether it knows when the retrofitting of noise barriers to the north of Olympic Station will be completed; of the effects of these noise barriers anticipated by MTRCL and the Government, and whether retrofitting noise barriers to the south of Olympic Station will be considered?



(a) and (b) In general, complaints about the noise of running trains received by other government departments will be referred to EPD for follow up.  Over the past five years, the total number of complaints about the noise of running trains received by the EPD is appended in Annex 1.

     The Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines provides guidance on new railway projects and new developments in the vicinity of railways.  The noise levels of trains in operation are regulated by the Noise Control Ordinance (NCO).  They should not exceed the corresponding statutory noise limits set out in NCO which are A-weighted equivalent continuous sound pressure level measured over a 30-minute period as shown in Annex 2.

     Upon receiving a complaint, the EPD will investigate into each case to ascertain if the noise levels of running trains exceed the statutory limits.  For details of the cases with noise levels of running trains exceeding the statutory limits over the past five years, please refer to Annex 3.

(c) In 1991, the former Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) commissioned a consultancy study and drew up a "noise reduction programme" for the East Rail (ER) Line.  The programme took account of the seriousness of noise impact on residents at different locations along the ER Line, the priorities of retrofitting noise reducing installations, as well as the practicability and effectiveness of these measures.  Under the programme, noise barriers retrofitting works commenced in 1993 and the works had all been completed now.  For details please refer to Annex 4.

     For the railway lines of the pre-merger Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Corporation, noise problems mainly occurred on the Kwun Tong Line.  The viaducts of the Kwun Tong Line were constructed more than thirty years ago.  The design does not allow for the loading of other additional structures such as noise abatement facilities.  Therefore, to install effective noise barriers, it is necessary to either carry out piling work or construct self-standing supports beside the viaducts to bear the additional loading.  There are carriageways under most parts of the viaducts of the Kwun Tong Line and the piling work or construction of self-standing supports would occupy one carriageway for a prolonged period.  The impact on traffic would not be acceptable.  Nonetheless, to reduce the noise from trains, the MTR Corporation commenced a programme in 2001 to minimise the rail joints on the Kwun Tong Line.  The programme was completed in 2003, reducing 65% of the rail joints on the viaducts.  In addition, The Corporation takes into consideration the situation of each location and implements appropriate measures to reduce the noise generated by running trains.  These include regular grinding of wheels and tracks, maintenance of trains and tracks, lubricating the tracks and wheels, altering the train speed, installing wheel dampers and using welding at rail joints where applicable to reduce the noise generated by running trains.

     The Kwun Tong Development and Renewal Task Force of the Kwun Tong District Council had commissioned the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute Limited to carry out a study on the severity of road and rail traffic noise along Kwun Tong Road and improvement methods.  A report on the results and recommendations of the study was published in 2009.  The report pointed out that installing noise barriers and covering the tracks were not feasible as there was not enough space and also it would have aesthetic impact on the landscape.

     The MTRCL also retrofitted noise barriers near Tung Chung Station and Tsing Yi Station along the Tung Chung Line/Airport Express in 2006 and 2009 respectively.  After the merger of the two railway companies, the MTRCL followed up the former KCRCˇ¦s work of retrofitting noise barriers at Wo Liu Hang near Fo Tan Station on the ER Line to reduce the noise impact of trains on nearby residents.  The work was completed in 2010.

(d) The EPD and the MTRCL hold liaison meetings regularly to discuss, among other things, environmental issues such as noise along the rail lines.  In response to complaints about the noise of trains, the EPD has proposed to the MTRCL that a consultancy be commissioned to conduct a comprehensive review of the noise levels of running trains and a study on the practicable improvement measures where necessary.

(e) Currently the noise levels of MTRCL running trains are under the control of section 13 of the NCO.  The EPD will request the MTRCL to make improvements if the noise levels of MTRCL trains are found exceeding the standards under the NCO.  However, as the MTRCL's ER Line, Tsuen Wan Line, Kwun Tong Line and Island Line are all built before the commencement of the NCO, there are practical difficulties and constraints if noise abatement facilities are to be retrofitted along these lines.  Therefore, section 37 of the NCO stipulates that section 13 shall apply to the MTRCL only so far as is practicable and compatible with the discharge of any function or the exercise of any power or duty conferred or imposed upon it according to law.

     As railway is a convenient means of transport, following the start of train services many facilities and buildings would be developed along the railway.  Due to the limitations of the original planning, there is a great difficulty in requiring the rail company to implement noise mitigation measures for new buildings developed after the railway is completed.

     The MTRCL will adopt appropriate measures to reduce noise generated by running trains by taking into account the merits of each case, the varied conditions of different rail sections, the development of technology and the topography.  The measures include grinding the rails and wheels regularly, proper maintenance of trains and rails, lubricating the tracks and wheels, adjusting the running patterns of trains and reducing train speed where feasible, installing wheel dampers, welding the rails at the joints where applicable in order to reduce noise from wheel movements on the track, and constructing noise barriers.  These various practicable measures help reduce noise generated during the operation of railway.

     New railways must meet the requirements and statutory standards under the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance.  The MTRCL must also carry out works and operate the railways in compliance with the requirements of the relevant legislation and the environmental permits, including the necessary noise reduction measures.

(f) According to the findings of a consultancy study completed in 1996 by the former KCRC, noise generated by running trains was the main noise source affecting residents along Peace Avenue.  The retrofitting of noise barriers would be effective in reducing the overall noise level along Peace Avenue.  As for the situation along Yim Po Fong Street, the consultant pointed out that as the noise level of trains there was similar to that of road traffic.  Reducing the noise level of trains would not significantly improve the overall situation, and therefore the consultant did not recommend any specific noise reduction measure for the section along Yim Po Fong Street.  Nevertheless, the KCRC has retrofitted 4m high noise barriers along Yim Po Fong Street to reduce the noise impact of trains on local residents.

(g) The MTRCL completed the noise barrier works to the north of Olympic Station in late 2010 and will assess the effectiveness of the noise barriers.  The assessment is scheduled for completion in the second quarter of 2011.  The noise barriers are designed to reduce the noise levels of running trains to meet the requirements of the NCO.  The MTRCL has no plan to retrofit noise barriers to the south of Olympic Station.  The development of the estates to the south of the Station has incorporated building design mitigation measures to reduce the noise impact of train operation on residents.  As the statutory requirements are complied with, no noise barrier would be required.

Ends/Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Issued at HKT 17:10