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$250,000 MBTA sound study of the area around Readville train yards concludes that nearby residents live near train yards

Microphone at CSX yard in Readville

A consultant's recorder at the Readville yard used by CSX last year.

Frustrated residents from Readville, Dedham and Milton told the MBTA and state Rep. Rob Consalvo (D-Hyde Park) this evening they are fed up with the overnight vibrations, humming and train horns from Readville's two train yards that they say have especially bedeviled them since 2020.

No matter how many times an official from the MBTA insisted in a Zoom meeting this evening the T has not changed operations at its Readville commuter-rail maintenance yard in five years, residents insisted that something must have changed in 2020, because that's when they started having long periods overnight of the worst ever noise and vibrations - to the point where some can no longer get to sleep because the vibrations alone would not only set their beds to moving, but could be felt right through their bodies.

The T called the meeting to announce the results of a $250,000 sound study conducted last year by WSP, a global consultancy with an office in Boston. Erich Thalheimer, the company's lead US acoustical engineer, described how the company placed four sound monitoring and recording devices around the two Readville yards - one of which CSX also uses for its freight trains - in May and coupled that with online survey forms for residents and then, in July, nightly visits to the Readville area by company employees.

The results? WSP concluded what residents were hearing was "not unusual urban noise" for people living near train yards, he said. More specifically: "The noise profile of the area was consistent with that of a standard urban area adjacent to railroad service."

That was not what people who joined the session wanted to hear, however - they wanted to hear solutions.

"I don't even bother trying go sleep before 3:30 in the morning," Sasja Lucas said. The vibration, she said, "goes right through me - it vibrates my bed, it vibrates my pillows, it's amazing."

"You feel this vibration deep in your chest and your heart and you wonder if something terrible is happening," Eve Law said. Unlike other residents, Law could not say when the particularly intense vibration and noise started since she's only lived in Readville for two years. But she said before that, she lived in South Boston and Allston/Brighton, near all sorts of transit lines, none of which prepared her for Readville.

And then there are the horns late at night. Bad enough are the horns after 1 a.m., especially the ones by a specific driver who likes to use his horns to play a jingle around 1:15 a.m., they said. Tiffany Cook, who lives near the Stop & Shop on Truman Parkway, said one night last week, some train driver laid on the horn for 22 minutes straight.

Suzanne Scanlon of Dedham, who works at home, says that proves difficult sometimes because the trains that park in back of her house are sometimes so loud she has to get off Zoom calls.

Consalvo said there is good news in the long term: The T will be replacing Fairmount Line commuter trains with battery-operated electric units. He allowed that that is at least three years - and given the T's history, possibly five years or more - away.

"This could take years, this could take several years and in the meantime what happens?" Milton Select Board member Roxanne Musto, who lives near the yards, asked, adding she is also concerned about the health effects of diesel fumes from the idling locomotives.

Musto and other Milton residents spoke longingly of the days when Tom Menino, a Readville resident, was Boston mayor. "When Mayor Menino was alive, we never had this noise," one said.

Adam Kamoune, an MBTA manager on the call, promised to go back to his operations staff to see if there is anything that can be done before then about the noise and vibrations, and vowed that the meeting was only a start of trying to do something.

However, he said that there will continue to be noise from the diesel locomotives because, especially at night, they have to be kept on to avoid problems - especially in colder winter months. He also acknowledged that the T has no control over the CSX engines that use the yard along Prescott Street - the last freight yard left in Boston.

Residents suggested taking a look at the way Chicago plugs in its diesel trains to keep their engines warm overnight without actually running. One resident suggested moving diesels to Widett Circle; another said the T should consider sending trains as far away as Providence to idle overnight, to spread the pain.

But basically, the T has no money to do anything major at Readville, Kamoune and Sharon Cranston, project manager for the Readville maintenance facility, said, because no Readville sound projects are in the T's capital budget. And Widett Circle as a functioning MBTA facility is years away as well, they said, adding that in any case, it will be used as a place to store trains between the morning and evening rush hours, not to do repairs as is done at Readville.

Consalvo, who acknowledged he and other elected officials have actually been getting complaints about the facility for more than 25 years, if not to the extent they have in the past four, said the sound study is a good first step, in part because "your voice tonight is going to drive the next steps."

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Comments

Residents: "When you idle your diesel engines all night in the winter, it vibrates us awake."
The MBTA: "The investigates we conducted in May and July found nothing unusual."

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Voting closed 37

Citizen scientists: The listening stations are registering 24-hour average plane noise levels in violation of the FAA guidelines.

Massport: turn off the stations "for maintenance" when there is heavy plane traffic and cut the public facing data feeds. Problem solved!

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Voting closed 33

Did anyone ask about adding sound barriers?

I live just far enough away to not be bothered most nights by the vibrations but havefelt it on a few ocassions.

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Voting closed 22

Just to install, never mind to first figure out where to put them. And the two T managers on the call made it clear they don't have any money.

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Voting closed 22

Hull residents complain about the constant sound of the sea. "All day, every day. It's becoming unbearable. Something must be done."

The most interesting thing about this article is the revelation of the noise-suppression abilities of Tom Menino. I know that the man had many virtues, but would not have suspected that this was among them. Perhaps it's a phenomenon similar to the one exploited in noise-cancelling headphones, in which an antiphase noise signal is injected that cancels out the one from the ambient environment. Noise against noise. This is called active noise cancellation. Perhaps active noise cancellation could be used on a larger scale to cancel out the train-noise signal. Such a system could be called a Menino Barrier. What could go wrong?

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Voting closed 47

You're not the one losing sleep due to the chronic noise and vibration.

I don't live near the Readville Station but I do live near the tracks that run parallel to Hyde Park Ave. In my 20+ years of living here, only in the last 4 years or so has the noise become so problematic that it interferes with sleep. One night last summer, the vibrations were so bad that my husband and I got in our car around 4:00 am to try to find the source of the problem. This is not "business as usual" and it is disingenuous for the T to claim that nothing has changed.

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Voting closed 61

Trains have been there since 1835.

Don't move to East Boston and complain about the airport noise.

Don't move to Chinatown and complain about the fireworks at the end of January.

Don't move near train tracks and close to a train yard and expect Squam Lake in the winter.

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Voting closed 38

See also: changing policies putting planes down the same precise tracks every 3 minutes in the summer when there is cloud cover.

A sudden or even gradual increase in idling diesels near houses is an important health issue anywhere, no matter how long that train line has been there.

Actually, idling diesels anywhere near homes is a problem, period, regardless of whether it has been going on for a long time or not.

https://www.mass.gov/info-details/cumulative-impact-analysis-in-air-qual....

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Voting closed 38

Because of all the complaints you get about being a boring loudmouth blowhard?

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Human beings have that pesky need for sleep. Human beings, when wanting mental health, also need to live where there is not a disease creating level of constant noise. While many have the capacity to "tune out" noise, The reality is that the noise is not consciously noticed but it is still creating unhealthy stress that contribute to useless stress, disrupted sleep and the same kind of diseased environment that dumping oil into streets causes.

The claim that there are people who can live near unhealthy, sometimes even damaging levels of noise is false.

If one is fine with noise then one should join the circus. But even in the circus, where noise is part of the entertainment, the performers have far more common sense that the average person who tolerates noise that is slowly killing them.

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Voting closed 15

I don't think they got any new ones of a different model in that time frame. So it sounds like the existed locomotives started running rougher.

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Voting closed 14

It's entirely possible it's the trains (or tracks) slowly degrading. We live 60 feet from another CR stop (not Readville) and normally it's a dull roar when the trains come in and out - white noise, mostly, no different than the sound of semitrucks on a busy street. The last week or so though I noticed there's been instances where certain trains sound REALLY different, and are causing a lot of vibrations that aren't normally there. I'm guessing they switched a new loco to this line and it's got some kind of issue.

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I have never noticed the vibrations while riding on the CR so I'm wondering what these massive vibrations are from that they can be felt through buildings

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And airplanes don't sound so bad when you're inside them.

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Voting closed 46

Locomotive APUs Solve Noise-At-Idle Problem

The railroad industry is slowly moving to add-on APUs to solve the diesel-idling problem at layover yards.

Instead of running the locomotive's diesel engine all night, an add-on smaller engine, an APU, runs to circulate & heat engine coolant, engine oil, and provide electrical power.

INPS Environmental is one provider of such railroad APU device.

https://inps-ep.com/banana/

Yes, they cost money, but the fuel savings show about an 18-24 month payback cost.

The noise problem moves from an idling 1200-2000 horsepower diesel to a constant hum of a lawn tractor engine.

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Voting closed 46

Ignoring investments today that will save money in the future.

The agency would rather save money today and assume the problem will just disappear in the future. (Or at least be a problem for someone else.)

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Voting closed 19

Retrofitting locomotives is a capital budget item.

Paying for fuel is an operating budget item.

The payback is a reasonable metric, but the money comes from different piles and isn't moved back and forth like that.

What I don't see is why they don't apply for grant money from state climate mitigation or federal sources to cover at least some of the cost of an efficiency retrofit. There may also be plug-in electric solutions to this - like powering a heat pump to keep the system warm. As a former diesel vehicle owner, it isn't a foreign concept to plug in a block heater (yes, I know these locos are more complicated).

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Voting closed 30

If fact (IIRC) during Menino, the T committed to putting in heater blocks (essentially electrical outlets by the tracks) so that they could be plugged in overnight. They put them in but didn't maintain so, of course, they're busted. Also, (again IIRC) many years ago more trains were stored at So Station. AND, the state air pollution regulations say locomotives can't idle for more than 30 mins (310 CMR 7.11(2) unless they are being serviced and require engine power. So, in fact, I think things have gotten worse for these folks, but of course, the T.

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Voting closed 17

I can only imagine what this would be like having on a daily basis. I lived near the Orange Line/Amtrak tracks for years, but not near a commuter stop, and only occasionally would a commuter train randomly idle near the Orange Line station late at night for some unknown reason. The insidious, but curious roar that tears up your body from that idle diesel engine is no joke. I thought it was annoying for an hour or two outside my home. I don't think I could deal with this regularly.

The first time I heard, and FELT the noise inside my home, I had no idea what it was. What could be so intrusive, yet also so hard to discern? I went outside 50 feet to the tracks, and there was the diesel train.

How awful of a system to do nothing to help alleviate the issue.

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Voting closed 31

The trains were quiet, the trains ran on time and the trains were crime free! I feel bad for Mayor Wu she cannot speak at Harvard for safety reasons, North End and Downtown restaurant owners complain she is no fun, the students at Emerson are gearing up for a rematch and she is now being blamed for noise problems at Readville yard.

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Yup, she might unleash on the students and trample their free speech rights.

I'd be very concerned for the safety of the students if she is around.

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Any replies to John's comment about Harvard will be deleted.

I've been remiss in writing about that issue, but this thread has nothing to do with that, and I won't see it, um, derailed like that.

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Voting closed 26

I will try to stay on track.

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That was kind of interesting.

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That sounds like a classic case of post hoc ergo propter hoc. But if Menino did have the power to keep trains quieter, running on time and crime free then share how he did it!

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...if you move next door to a railroad, you have to expect noise from trains.

The railroad didn't suddenly materialize out of nowhere; it's been there since the middle of the nineteenth century. You knew it was there when you moved in. You are perfectly free to move somewhere where there aren't any trains.

I feel the same way about people who move next to a dairy farm and complain about the smell, or people who move next to an AM radio tower and complain that Howie Carr is yelling at them out of their toaster.

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Voting closed 38

But aside from the lady who moved to Readville two years ago, the people who spoke last night all made a point of saying they've lived near the yards for a long time, decades in some cases, so they know they're living near train yards, it's that something changed in 2020 that made it far worse.

None of the places involved - Readville, the Manor section of Dedham and Milton - are exactly noted for their massive influx of new construction in recent years, so, no, this is not like the people who moved into new condos at the Navy Yard and complained about the Constitution shooting cannons.

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Voting closed 68

Readville was just used for midday storage of trains prior to 2020, then with the Covid-era schedule changes, they started parking sets overnight.

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Voting closed 24

That sounds very likely. But "an official from the MBTA insisted in a Zoom meeting this evening the T has not changed operations at its Readville commuter-rail maintenance yard in five years". If you have evidence to support your claim, it would help these residents get the T to fix this.

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Voting closed 3

I'm sure if these people had millions in spare cash they'd gladly relocate to leafy South Brookline. Right now they live where they can. Do you also blame people with asthma for living next to a freeway that has been around longer than they have been alive?

This is a serious quality of life issue even if there's no quick cheap and easy change the T could make. But they still have a right to bring up the problem and ask the T for improvements.

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Voting closed 51

“ You are perfectly free to move somewhere where there aren't any trains”

Maybe on Planet of the Affluent.

It sounds like these vibrations and noises have worsened on the past two years. The complaints are based on that because people have been living there all along, before it got worse.

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Voting closed 33

Instead of why don’t you fix the problem?

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Sam Kinisons World Hunger bit?

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Welcome to parts of Hingham and Hull.

Bread crumbs at the bottom of the toaster used to move to the sounds of David Brudnoy on WBZ at night.

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What an absolute waste of taxpayer money. $250,000 could go to a lot of good in Consalvo's district beyond this.

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Voting closed 24

If it resulted in an adequate fix for the problem then it would have been well spent

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Voting closed 25

Most of these people don't even live near the yard.
Lucas lives far up Fairmount Hill, on Summit Street.
Law lives off River Street, North of Fairmount train station.
Cook, I have sympathy for. She lives VERY close to the stop n shop.
Scanlon lives literally abutted to the Norwood train tracks... Her zoom meetings don't happen overnight.
Musto lives in Milton... On the other side of a very popular trucking route (aka Neponset Valley Prkwy).

AND I'll bet they all forget how there's just a few hours every night that the T can do work on the River Street bridge out of Cleary sq.
I would bet a couple of these people are actually complaining about that bridge work... That work that's only been going on for a couple years every night.

That said, I've def' heard extra loud noise from the rail... About 5-7yrs ago, when they redid the rail bed the whole length of Hyde Park Ave. And I think they should do that sound level test during the winter when the diesels run all night.
I look forward to the T changing over to electric... And I hope they figure out a quieter way to keep their diesels ready to roll.

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Voting closed 20

Sound monitors have gotten increasingly affordable. Organize, lay out a monitoring system with regular calibration, and start recording.

You can even rent pro equipment for a campaign.

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Voting closed 19

I've camped with my son at the scout camp in Milton a couple times, which is two miles from the yards. It sounded like there was a train pulling into a commuter rail station a hundred yards away. Except the train never leaves the station, it just idles all night long.

If these people are hearing the noise all night, every night, all year long, it doesn't have to be all that loud to be extremely annoying. I'm sure these trains are capable of being shut down for the night without exploding.

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…. studies have shown noise pollution has an effect on public health.

I recall reading a few years ago about a possible connection between constant low level noise and vibrations and higher instances of high blood pressure in urban neighborhoods and neighborhoods near major highways.

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I'm guessing something changed operationally. The residents should check out historical satellite imagery of the yards and sidings to see if they can spot any operational changes over the past months/years. It's possible there's a section of track that wasn't used often in the past and now has engines idling on it. There's lots of CSX/MBTA track in the area, some of which as been removed over the last 10 years (e.g. where Tesla Collision now sits).

On an unrelated note, I wonder how many gallons of diesel the T would save every year if they had Shore Connection Systems in place.

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Voting closed 19

Did the sound study conclude that the rail yard is the source of the noise people are hearing? When people have gone looking for the noise on their own in the middle of the night, including Consalvo, they were never able to locate the source.

Regular train noise? Yes. This buzzing and humming noise, No?

People living on the Clarendon Hills area often complain about loud music and party noise but in fact it is down on American Legion Highway, and it reflects up the hill like an amphitheater.

So if all they found was regular train noise, when is this sound they are hearing, which by the way, is not every night.

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Voting closed 11

Yeah, the study confirmed people are hearing train noises (and also firetrucks and other stuff), then concluded this is what you can expect living in an "urban" area near train yards (apparently there are federal standards or guidelines related to sounds in "urban," "suburban" and "rural" areas).

Which wasn't news to anybody on the call, who seemed to have thought that the results of the study would include some recommendations on how to alleviate that noise.

The difficulty of locating the source of the sounds also came up: Apparently, low-frequency noise is more omnidirectional, making it more difficult to pinpoint, although the expert in charge of the study said that was one reason to send actual people out at night - it is easier outdoors to locate sound origins thanks to the way our heads and ears are built.

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Voting closed 16

If they just bothered to talk to anyone that works on or near the trains they could have saved a lot of money. It has nothing to do with operations, those really haven't changed much. Trains have to be stored in Readville and tested (yes, including the horns) every night before going back out the next day (the inspection process also requires them to be running and connected to power and air sources) and considering the last trains of the night run past 1am and first ones of the new day start running around 4am there's a small window to get them all done.

The sound problem is with the rebuilt F40 locomotives, the first of which was delivered in late 2019 with more and more coming in the years following so the timeline checks out. The new Head End Power engines in these things are LOUD and definitely produce that deep rumble. Not all of them are awful but some of them are enough to cause hearing loss up close with moderate exposure or a very uncomfortable rumbling in the ears even if you're at the other end of the train.

The trains are stored and tested at every MBTA facility every night, but Readville is easily the largest yard south of the city and stores the most trains so there's always going to be some nights that there's more of those F40s there than any other location so that's why the sound problem is more relevant in this area.

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Voting closed 3

This sounds similar to the change that English High made which resulted in noise pollution in the area. English High's AC system venting components were updated in the 2000 teens. One of the external differences is that the fans are audible. Before the update the fans were not audible. The folks who manage school buildings claim that never happened but the website of the company that did the work proves that the city employees are either idiots or liars. In any case they now generate noise pollution when before the noise was not present.

Technology changes and not always for the better. What the T is obligated to do (not that T management would) is explain how things changed at this rail yard which is generating noise pollution assaulting the residents.

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Voting closed 13