‘Excruciating’ noises set to heat up over the summer for Sydney residents

*Caroline fell asleep on her bathroom floor, even though she had a perfectly good bedroom just down the hall. That’s because the noise from the nearby station, Waverton, made it impossible to sleep in a room with windows.

“The noise levels are extreme,” she said, explaining how she slept on a roll-up mattress on her bathroom tiles, which she then packed up each morning.

“It was impossible to sleep in the bedroom because the screeching was so bad and continued through the night,” she said.

“Ear plugs didn’t stop it. I used a white noise sound machine for a while, but it didn’t always work consistently so I gave up and just slept in the bathroom.”

Caroline has since moved out of the area, but the noises continue, and they’re set to get worse over the summer.

Trains passing through Wollstonecraft and Waverton station in Sydney’s north have to move along the tightest railway bend in Sydney, known as the Wallumetta Curve. This generates “excruciating” noises that according to residents, are driving them to despair.

Weekday rail noise measurements at Wallumetta Curve, Wollstonecraft – August 2016 to August 2019

Noises can reach over 100 decibels (dB), both from a train’s wheel squeal and also what is known as flanging — when the flange of the wheel rubs against the rail. For context, a rock concert or thunderclap is around 115dB, according to the McCollum Hearing Centre.

From 4.30am to 1am, 450 train services travel between Wollstonecraft and Waverton station, creating intermittent screeching noises that last all day long.

Summer is “the worst season” for train noises according to civil engineer Brian McGlynn, as the rails expand from the heat, and aren’t lubricated from recent rainfall.

“I sometimes wake up 15 times in the one night,” Mr McGlynn said, having lived 80 metres away from the rail track for the last seven years. “And it’s not just that it’s annoying, it’s a real health issue as well.”

According to the World Health Organisation any sound above 85dB is harmful to hearing, and can increase the chances of heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and sleep disturbances — as in the case of Caroline and Mr McGlynn.

Brian McGlynn is the co-chair of the Waverton Wollstonecraft Rail Noise Action Group (WWRNAG). The group have been campaigning for noise walls, lubrication and better maintenance of the tracks to reduce noise since 2002.

“People say: ‘you can move out if you don’t like it.’ But it’s not about moving,” Mr McGlynn said. “What about the people who come in after you?”

By Alex Turner-Cohen

Ian Links, who co-chairs the resident action group, has lived in a 7th floor flat in the area with his family since 1972. He dreads the hot season.

“A lot of the units in the area are older and don’t have air-conditioning or double-glazing. So, we have to keep all the window’s shut. There’s no ventilation…it’s disastrous [in summer].”

“It’s an excruciating sound,” he added.

“If you talk to a real estate agent in the area, they’ll say ‘we have enormous turnovers.’ People just can’t handle the noise.”

Mr Links explained how the noises were bearable for a while in 2012, but then trains kept slipping and overshooting at the station from the lubricators.

“Since October 2012 the lubricators have been turned off. Permanently. Since then the noise has been getting worse.”

The resident action group has been measuring noise levels for the last three years. Using the SoundMeter (Faber Acoustical) iPhone app, they’ve found that the noises have been getting consistently louder.

However, Mr Links believes there’s light at the end of the tunnel and are now working with Sydney Trains for the very first time:

“There are potential solutions. We’re working very closely with Sydney Trains to try and mitigate the impact.”

On August 14, following a community meeting, Sydney Trains’ Environment Division headed by Nev Nichols has started looking at alternative options, including rail dampers, noise barriers and an innovative rail lubrication system from Slovenia. Residents hope this will give them the peace and quiet they so desperately need.

But this may be too little too late for Joanna Wallis, who rents an apartment less than a minute away from Wollstonecraft station.

“I cannot hear the TV over the noise of the trains, so use subtitles,” she said.

“At the station it often physically hurts both my and my son’s ears.”

Ms Wallis doesn’t plan on renewing her lease when it runs out in two months. With summer approaching, she appears to be leaving just in time.

*Caroline requested that her surname not be published.