One thing is certain: We will only meet our climate protection goals if we achieve the modal shift of moving more transport to the rail system. Strong Rail means more trains, which in turn means we have to think more about the people who live near railway lines. There is no way to make trains completely silent, but we need to ensure that these people are on our side if we want to transport more passengers and more freight using the greenest form of mobility there is. The best way to do this is also the most obvious: We have to cut the level of railroad noise our services generate.
That is why we, together with the German government, have put people at the center of our 2030/2050 noise reduction targets. By 2030, we aim to reduce noise levels for over 800,000 people living adjacent to tracks. This figure represents over half the total number of people affected currently living near rail routes. By 2050, we will have improved the situation for all residents exposed to railroad noise in this way.
Our 2030/2050 noise reduction targets are part of Deutsche Bahn's all-encompassing Green Transformation and, by extension, of our Strong Rail strategy.
Achieving our goals for 2030 and 2050 involves a tried-and-tested twofold approach: Improving the noise mitigation infrastructure along train tracks, and reducing the noise made by rail vehicles themselves.
Approach 1: Noise mitigation infrastructure
Stationary noise reduction measures deliver a perceptible and permanent reduction in railroad noise wherever they are used. They include constructing noise barriers beside tracks and installing soundproof windows and other noise-reducing fittings in buildings. These measures are based on the German government's voluntary noise abatement program.
Between 2021 and 2030, our noise abatement infrastructure will grow by an average of 125 km a year, 25% more than in the past. Priority will be given to routes that are exposed to high noise levels.
By the end of 2030, we will have completed work on half of the total distance covered by these lines, which means noise reduction measures for 3,250 km in total.
We will complete the entire undertaking by 2050. Soundproofing measures will then be in place along 6,500 km of Germany's rail network.
Approach 2: Reducing noise at the source
In Germany, the project to fit DB Cargo's entire fleet of freight cars with whisper brakes was completed late in 2020. During the past few years, we have fitted older cars with quiet, composite brake blocks and purchased new cars that already have this feature.
By 2025, we will have replaced all of DB Long-Distance's diesel-powered switching locomotives with eco-friendly, low-noise hybrid switchers. Similarly, all electric main-line locomotives hauling DB Cargo Deutschland's freight trains will feature quiet brake systems by 2025, and certain diesel locomotive classes will be retired from the company's fleet by 2030.
Research and development for even quieter trains
We are always looking for new ways to reduce noise from passing trains, so we have established a wide range of research projects to study new anti-noise technology that we can use on our rail routes. I-LENA focused on testing new noise reduction measures in an application-focused manner as part of a joint initiative with Germany's transport ministry (BMVI). Together, our goal was to expand the portfolio of available track- and building-focused noise mitigation measures – effective low-rise noise barriers and a series of mobile walls made of different materials were two of the solutions we tested. This project cost a total of some EUR 6 million and was completed at the end of 2020.
Vehicle innovations are just as important to us. Here, we worked together with VTG AG on developing an innovative freight car, one that is energy-efficient, low-noise and fitted with smart technology. We were also busy with other projects covered by the same initiative, funded to the sum of about EUR 18 million by BMVI. Some of these included looking at different freight wagon types, such as motor vehicles and container transporters, flat cars and tank cars, to come up with new designs that increase effectiveness, reliability and cost efficiency.
On time with noise reduction plans
Our 2030/2050 noise reduction targets are an extension of our goals for 2020. One of these was cutting 2000's noise level by 50%, which was made possible by completely refitting every freight car at DB Cargo and by the installation of noise reduction measures along 2,000 km of tracks. Combined, these two measures have helped us to achieve our noise mitigation targets by 2020 as originally promised.