SINGAPORE – Residents in Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Batok and Buona Vista are now enjoying slightly quieter neighbourhoods, with MRT tracks near their homes equipped with noise barriers that dampen the clunking of passing trains.
As of June, the second phase of the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) project to build 27km of noise barriers along Singapore’s elevated tracks of the North-South and East-West MRT lines has been completed, spanning 10km and covering twenty locations.
Together with the first phase that was finished in 2018, 21.5km of MRT tracks are now covered by a semi-enclosure or flanked by vertical boards up to 4.5m high that can reflect or absorb sound waves.
The third phase, comprising another 5.5km in places like Joo Koon, Bishan and Paya Lebar, is set to be finished in 2024.
“You might not think that it is important – but it is,” said Mr Jen Ang, 56, a marketing director in Ang Mo Kio, who compared the dull thud of passing MRT trains to having a constant, although barely noticeable, headache.
“It happens every few minutes, sometimes it’s louder when two trains are close. At the end of the day, you are left exhausted and feel less energetic.”
He said the situation has improved now with the noise barriers up. “At least I’m no longer woken up by the sound of trains in the morning. And I get to enjoy my morning coffee.”
The locations of noise barriers are chosen based on various factors, including how close the tracks are to nearby homes. It is not clear what the total distance of MRT tracks above ground is.
Research has shown that a passing MRT train can produce noise of up to 80 to 85 decibels – the equivalent of the sound of a loud alarm clock or hairdryer. This is similar to noise levels of trains elsewhere and studies have shown that long-term exposure to this noise level can harm people’s hearing.
LTA’s barriers reduce the noise level by five to 10 decibels, as measured from the nearest residential block. The authority said previously that the resulting 75 to 80 decibel noise would be like listening to someone practising on the piano.
The project began in 2013 after residents complained about the noise from the tracks. The second phase of the project was initially due to be completed in 2019, but the Government decided to push back the date to this year as it needed to review the effectiveness of phase one of the project.
Some residents, like Ms Kong Si Min, 37, who lives near the train tracks in Ang Mo Kio, said she was counting down the days to the erection of the barriers.
Ms Kong, a business consultant, said the noise was particularly hard to bear during the period of pandemic restrictions, when she had to stay home more.
“It was then that I realised how debilitating (the noise) can be. I hope the Government continues to look into reducing noise from the trains, which definitely can still be heard.”
Today, the LTA is also exploring other ways to reduce the noise of transport infrastructure, such as with noise-dampening wheels and using ballast and concrete sleepers so tracks can more effectively absorb noise.
In 2019, then transport minister Khaw Boon Wan said developers of nearby buildings must chip in to design features that will reduce the noise from MRT tracks, as MRT noise can never be completely eradicated.
“Developers know about our rail and rail projects years in advance of their construction,” he said.
Transport Minister S. Iswaran said on Facebook last week that the installation of the barriers has not been easy. Time and effort were required to set up the barriers safely along a live MRT line without damaging existing infrastructure, he said.
Noise barrier installation takes place only after passenger service hours and is coordinated with other rail maintenance and improvement works.
During the construction of the barriers, mobile noise shields were used to reduce the impact on residents. Noise levels were also closely monitored in real time.
“I seek residents’ continued understanding on this,” Mr Iswaran said. “When the project is done, residents can look forward to a quieter neighbourhood.”
The National Environment Agency recommends that people should be exposed to no more than 67 decibels of noise level.
However, a National University of Singapore study in 2017 found that Singapore’s average outdoor sound level throughout the day was 69.4 decibels, exceeding the recommended level.