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Bearable Noise Limits & Noise Emissions Ceilings

Complete with results
Geo-spatial type
Project Acronym
Bearable Noise Limits
STRIA Roadmaps
Transport mode
Rail icon
Transport policies
Environmental/Emissions aspects
Transport sectors
Passenger transport,
Freight transport


Background & Policy context

Annoyance due to environmental noise is regarded  as an important issue for which a European approach has been developed over the years. According to the European Commission about 10% of the population is exposed to railway noise levels above the threshold for “serious annoyance”. Besides this, road traffic noise causes an even larger number of seriously annoyed: 30%.

This insight has lead to a number of European policy intentions and directives addressing environmental noise and its various sources.  The question ‘What are bearable limits for environmental noise?’ is discussed regularly in different forums on a national scale and on a European level. Thus it was needed to provide  a feasibility study on bearable limits for railway noise. 


Inspite of its environmentally friendly image, rail transport encounters substantial public opposition to noise in some European regions. The Commission believes that “if no remedial action is taken, this could lead to restrictions in rail freight traffic along the most important European rail corridors. A possible modal shift from rail to road on these corridors would lead to increasing environmental impacts.”

Retrofitting 370 000 freight wagons is the  main objective to avoid this scenario.  The objective of the feasibility study was to set on bearable limits for railway noise.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Non-profit organisation
Institution Name
UIC - Union Internationale des Chemins de fer
Type of funding


The final report report gives the results of a feasibility study on bearable limits for railway noise.  

Two developments put pressure on limits for railway noise: 

1. Noise emission ceilings are announced by the European Commission to prevent increasing noise if rail freight traffic grows. 

2. The World Health Organization (WHO) and civil initiatives to restart the debate about lower noise reception limits.   

European noise policy

EU noise policy distinguishes the sources of noise (emission) and the exposure to noise (reception). The sources (cars, trains, aircrafts) and their noise emission are addressed by DG MOVE. One of the intended EC policy instruments for railway noise control is ‘noise emission ceilings’. Noise reception is primarily the domain of the Member States. Many countries already have noise reception limits.

Health effects of noise

The WHO has issued guideline values for environmental noise. The most stringent guidelines address night noise. An Interim Target of 55 dB L are proposed and Night Noise night Guideline of 40 dB L railway noise is bearable? cannot be answered by looking at the WHO guidelines only. Choosing acceptable noise limits is a political consideration. 

The question ‘What level of exposure to night National noise legislation

A survey of current noise legislation in European countries reveals an enormous variation in legal protection of residents that live close to new or existing lines, either in residential or mixed zones, in flats or detached houses. Different noise indicators imply sometimes cultural differences. The European policy instrument of noise emission ceilings is inspired by specific Swiss and Dutch ceiling legislation. 

Noise reception limits

Noise reception limits have impact on spatial planning, current residents, infra manager and the train operator. Without noise measures, nightly reception levels will be above 40 dB up to 1000 m or more from the busy railway lines. Levels above 55 dB are found up to 500 m. Reduction of reception levels to 55 dB means  in average additional cost for barriers of € 0.3 to 0.5 million per km railway line (Western Europe). 

Noise emission ceilings

Noise emission ceilings are already in force in Switzerland and the Netherlands. They have a direct impact on the infra manager and train operators. The initial height of the


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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