The Dutch railway network is one of the busiest in Europe – and it is expected to become even busier. Vibrations from trains can cause severe annoyance and severe sleep disturbance for people who live up to 300 metres away. In 2021, 11% of people in this group (aged 16 and over) experienced symptoms like irritability, anger and unease. This is equivalent to an estimated 126,500 people. Severe sleep disturbance was experienced by 13%. Freight trains were the main culprit. This is the outcome of a study conducted by RIVM. These results confirm the outcome of a 2013 study.

Freight trains are the main cause of annoyance and sleep disturbance 

Vibrations from freight trains in particular are a cause of annoyance and sleep disturbance. Of the participants in the study, 22.6% indicated that freight trains caused severe annoyance, while 18% reported severe sleep disturbance. Both percentages are much lower (8% and 6%, respectively) for vibrations from passenger trains. People who are exposed to elevated vibration levels or live closer to a railway line reported severe annoyance caused by vibrations from freight trains more often. The link between the distance from the railway line and annoyance is much more pronounced for freight trains than for passenger trains. 

Role played by noise and personal factors

There is also a link between the extent to which people experience annoyance or sleep disturbance caused by vibrations from trains and the perceived annoyance and sleep disturbance caused by train noise. Social and personal factors are contributory factors as well. For example concern of damage to the home or concern about depreciation of the value of the home The main concern that people have is that the vibrations lead to damage or a depreciation of the value of their homes. The annoyance level is also affected by feeling, seeing or hearing the vibrations of windows, doors and crockery (‘rattle’). The extent to which vibrations are deemed acceptable and expectations for the future also play a role.   

 Improvements to the study compared to 2013

The results of this study confirm many of the results of the 2013 study. Compared to 2013, the model that was used is much better able to estimate the number of vibrations that people are exposed to. This makes the results more reliable. However, the model is less suitable when it comes to estimating vibrations near tunnels, railway bridges and railway lines that are located closely together. That is why sites like those were not included in this study.

Confirmation of results offers guidance for policy

While legislation exists on the subject of train noise, there is little to none when it comes to vibrations caused by trains. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (IenW) can use the results of this study to develop policy and regulations.
This study shows that social and personal circumstances also play a role in the extent to which people experience annoyance or sleep disturbance, in addition to the exposure to vibrations. RIVM therefore recommends taking these circumstances into account when taking measures. 
RIVM conducted this study on behalf of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.