Hearing Loss on the London Underground

Research, analysed by the University College London Ear Institute, has sought to discover whether noise levels on the London Tube network are capable of inflicting hearing loss on passengers.[i] Previously, in edition 215 of BC Disease News (here), we reported on noise exposure from various transport methods in Toronto, where research concluded that mean noise levels were within recommended safe levels, although cumulative bursts of loud noise still had the potential to place individuals at risk of hearing damage.

In this latest study, the BBC spent one week recording sound levels in zones 1 and 2 of the London tube network.

Findings showed that, on average, the Victoria, Jubilee and Northern Lines were loudest, exceeding 85 dB, and would require hearing protection if they were places of occupation in excess of 8 hours per day. The UCL Ear Institute described this as ‘concerning’, and further said:

If someone was on a noisy Tube line every day for long journeys, it is perfectly possible this could increase the risk of hearing loss and potentially tinnitus’.

The loudest noise reading was registered between Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green at 109 dB. During 10 journeys, noise levels were seen above 105 dB as shown in the graphics below.



Arranged by average noise level, the loudest journeys were:


217(6).pngPeter Rogers, of the Institute of Acoustics, has urged TfL to introduce ‘quieter carriages’, as a means to tackle the risk of hearing loss for commuters.

Nigel Holness, of Transport for London (TfL), responded to the findings by stating that:

‘While customers travelling on our network can experience noise, higher volumes tend to be for short periods of time and Health & Safety Executive guidance on noise suggests it is highly unlikely to cause any long-term damage to customers' hearing.

We are confident that nobody out there is exposed to an unsafe nose level. Of course, there are parts of the network that are noisier than others, but you would need to be exposed to that noise for a significant period of time for it to cause you any hearing damage. One of the things we are doing of course is to look at things like quieter track fastenings, we grind the rails, we replace the rails, all of that is designed to give a smoother journey, but also a quieter journey’.[ii]



[i] Gareth Furby, London Underground noise could damage hearing, says academic (19 January 2018 BBC London) <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-42791299> accessed 31 January 2018.

[ii] ‘Inside Out London’ (29 January 2018 BBC iPlayer) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09pt9v2/inside-out-london-29012018> accessed 31 January 2018.