Noisy Trains

I wonder when the complaints and pending lawsuits about the deafening noise on BART's trains will finally prompt them to do something about it. Why can't they be early adopters of noise cancelling technology? Here's some examples of such:
It seems like the interior of a BART car, already wired with a sound system would be a perfect platform for the technology. What will it take, aside from a monumental class action suit to get BART to DO SOMETHING!?

Interior train noise right? Try foam earplugs. Not kidding, they work and they're cheap.

In my experience, BART trains are no more noiser than NYC subway trains, London Underground and the Paris Metro*. When trains must traverse in underground urban sections requiring curves, wheel and track alignments are critical and squeeling and grinding are the norm.

Systems such as the Montreal subway and *Paris Metro lines that run on rubber tyres are obviously much quieter, but speeds are much lower.

You've brought up an interesting topic - BART train noise in the open environment. There is a section between Fruitvale Station and a point beyond High Street (curve) that is extremely noisy. When environmental conditions are right, one could hear a BART train I believe somewhere near Albany/El Cerrito in Tilden Park - high above in the Berkeley hills.

Are we hearing the noise because of the 3rd rail, the tracks, or the wheels?

Good general information article about track maintenance. Very necessary and critical for heavy rail transit traffic.

BART rail standard is wider than standard gauge rail. It was designed to provide a smoother ride - a lot less lateral slop, I mean movement.

Two steel train flanged wheels on an axle have a set distance. There's a margin of wear tolerance or else there would be a possible derail situation. As the article mentioned, the rails must be parallel even through curves and S turns. The front edge of the flange depending if it's on the in-board or out-board side will contact or bite the rail causing the noise.

A transit or rail operator must balance the wear rate on a rail and the wear rate of rolling stock components. BART is often seen on the highway transporting train axles/wheel sets - probably between maintenance yards. It's very expensive to replace a section of track, especially when you only have a 1AM to 4AM window.

Just curious how much are the wheels?

1 mile a night is nuts. Thats it?! How long is the tube? They need to put more than 1 grinder and use multiple at a time.

Somthing's not right here because going thru the transbay tube, some cars are much noisier than others. Some cars are unbearable. It's either the wheels on that car or the insulation but not all cars are equally noisey.

Yeah I've noticed that too actually. And the ride heading into Richmond seems much quieter! I guess one side of the line is grinded correctly lol.

Shrapnel's picture

It's a combination of both - but mostly the later.

The wheels add to the problem of grinding, but only nominally. Some cars (that are past due for an overhaul) are poorly insulated. Some are totally lacking the acoustical foam in the floor that helps to cancel the noise from the rails.

I just talked to a Maintenance and Way engineer, and he says that they are given direction on areas of focus based on patron response - they generally don't proactively smooth track. So that means, basically, that if you notice a particularly loud and obnoxious section of track, report it! Use a comment card (available from a Station Agent) or use BART's online Customer Comment section.

TreoBART's picture

I agree, and I vote for faster refurbishment of the train cars. I'm tired of the filthy nasty carpets, I celebrate every time I get to ride in one of the new cars

I agree with you too; I'm always happy when I get to ride in a nice fresh, smelling car, like today. I'm sadden to say though if you see the same car about three weeks later, it is already trashed. Hope BART can put more officers on the trains to keep the cars from getting trashed so quickly after being reburbished. You would think the passengers would want to keep them nice so we can all enjoy a nice ride to and from work or an event, etc., but then you have BART Pig!

boopiejones's picture

earplugs work great. personally, i like listening to music so i recently purchased a set of noise isolating headphones (basically a combination of earbuds and earplugs). using them, i can't hear ANY outside noise - no conversations, no phones ringing, no traintrack screaching. the completely silent bart ride does take some time getting used to, but it is sooooooooo nice.

what type of earplugs did you buy? do they have Bluetooth type headset from the same company who makes that earplugs?

boopiejones's picture

i bought the etymotic er6i. etymotic does make a bluetooth headset. the earpiece looks the same as mine, so i imagine the noise reduction is similar. here's a link:

cool, I'll check it out. Thanks!!!

Boopie, are you using the original tips or did you switch over to the foam ones for optimal noise blocking?

boopiejones's picture

the original tips. the ones with three seperate flanges that kinda look like a christmas tree. i never even tried the foam ones because the originals work so good. plus, the foam ones need to be replaced fairly often (or so i was told) so i have been sticking with the christmas trees.

BART should of had 1 extra tube built. That way they can perform maintenance on 1 track at a time and switch the tracks when its being grinded.

AMEN!! And voila, we'd have all night service!

I use SonyEricsson W810i silicone earbuds, and they work fantastic, but I still find that some stretches of track and some trains more than others, I still find the noise deafening, even over my music, and can't imagine what those around me are suffering with no protection. I mean it sounds like a fucking airplane taking off and it has to be causing permanent hearing damage of some sort.
Sometimes I can't hear my own music up all the way, never mind trying to talk to my partner sitting right next to me. Once in a while I won't be wearing them and I'll find the noise absolutely maddening.

Glad to hear confirmation that there is no proactive, self-monitoring going on as far as those "essential hours of maintenance" are concerned. So what exactly are they doing?
If that noise is so widespread and isn't viewed as a priority, then I reiterate, why can't there be a noise cancelling system installed? Then they can ignore that "maintenance" altogether.

I'll think about those Etys again, but if I recall they were mighty pricey, weren't they?

It's awful. I wear big giant earphones whether I listen to music or not. I hate it if I forget my earphones. They have become a necessary tool for commuting for me. I feel sorry for the T.O.s who have to listen to that several times a day. I can hear BART trains on the tracks all the way from my house which is at least two miles from the train tracks.

I'm closer to 4 miles and I can still hear them clearly. I wonder why the neighbors don't complain.

And I was right about those Etys. $150 ain't exactly for everyone! But I'm still thinking about it :-)

I live over a mile from underground BART tracks in Berkeley and I can still hear the trains

TreoBART's picture

One guy used to ride with a giant pair of gun range ear protectors... that always made me giggle, but noone messed with him

Shrapnel's picture

I don't really get why... But no one has ever tried to mess with me.

When I'm not in uniform I don't look very intimidating. (Hell, even in uniform I don't look too vicious!)

Why? I think (appearance-wise) I'd be a great target out of uniform.

boopiejones's picture

my er6i were about $70 on amazon - well worth the money. considering a cheesy pair of apple ipod branded headphones will run you about $25, offers zero noice isolation and will break within a month, $70 is a relative bargain. the next step up, the er4, is about $180 online.

i think the list price for the er6i was about $150 and the er4 was $300, but you can find them both way cheaper if you shop around a bit.

I'm really tired of the noise too. I have to ride all the way to Pittsburg and it is noisy through all most all the way through the Tube, noisy between West Oakland and 12th Street stations, noisy in the Orinda tube, REALLY noisy between Concord and North Concord. I also notice that the the trains sway from side to side at times which also concerns me. Sometimes on the old train cars, there is nothing on the floor but carpet and I feel like I'm going to fall through it because i can feel holes underneath my feet. BART really does need to do something about this. It really ruins the ride.

... What will it take, aside from a monumental class action suit to get BART to DO SOMETHING!? ...

What it will take is the money to replace the train cars, which are now 10 years past their recommended lifespan and/or spending a lot of money on new undercarriages with quieter suspensions.

I won't hold my breath for money for car replacements. BART's so "poor" as it is. They'll say the hundreds of millions they spend isn't enough and that they'll have to double the fares to do it. I guess headphones or earplugs are the only hope. I wonder what kind of safety risk is posed by the cars being 10 years past their recommended lifespans. How much would replacing them cost?

philo_beddo's picture




TreoBART's picture

Wow all that capslock must mean you are right! It's totally a website I will visit right now as soon as I'm done with reading the one the tree hippies in Berkley wrote and the guy who has the alien implant in his brain.

no no, it must be important since he posted it to so many times

philo_beddo's picture

yes it's very important, wiseguys. Or do you think becoming deaf as a result of bad design/ bad policy of a public utility is no big deal? And, sorry i posted it twice, i'm new to this wonderful site.

jovino's picture

I have to agree with the level of importance.

My friend measured well over 105db in the transbay tube the other day. The only reason it wasn't higher is because that's as high as her meter went.

I've started wearing earplugs on BART. Not just through the tube, but at all times. While the levels in the tube are unbearable, there is so much other ambient and transient noise that it just makes riding the damn thing stressful. Just the other day I watched a child bury his head in a blanket, crying, as we passed through the transbay tube.

I'm considering doing a study one of these days. My plan is to take a decibel meter onto BART and ride back and forth through the transbay tube for a few hours and annotate the levels. It's been proven that extended exposure to levels over 80db leads to permanent hearing loss, I can only imagine the damage being done to people on a daily basis. I'm certain that the findings of this study will only lead to decreased ridership and increased fares as BART will have to either deal with supplying earplugs for riders, a complete retrofit and/or a class action lawsuit.

It is my personal opinion that BART cannot continue to be this negligent as to knowingly cause permanent hearing damage to its riders on a daily basis. But I also feel bad by putting BART in a position of compromise with my findings -- scientific or not.

TreoBART's picture

Here's an oldie but goodie thread about this exact topic:

Ear Piercing Track Noise

we could all call the local TV tip lines and point out it is well past OSHA heath limits.

See if they have significant TO's with hearing loss..

Is it just me or has this gotten worse? I took the brother and cousin to the city for the tree lighting, and the sound was really painful. They couldn't believe that I have to do this twice a day. When I got on this morning, it was even worse!

Who is the contact at BART to email about this? Is there a state standard that mandates certain noise levels? Is BART liable to slowly (or perhaps not so slowly) making me go deaf?