Train horn noise pollution

26 February 2015

Upon my election in March 2014, I inherited the debacle that is the train horns. This is the most common issue to be raised with me since.

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 15:36:17 ): In February 2014, the former member for Bright distributed a letter to the Bright community with the capitalised heading 'Train Horns Resolved'. This was a commitment triggered by an election campaign in which the noise pollution caused by air horns on the new electric trains on the Seaford line had become a pressing issue. During the campaign, only two electric trains were in service yet residents were already raising concerns about the sound of the horn. It was unnecessarily loud and, rather than the low drone of the old diesel horns, it had a piercing, high-pitched screech which had become like nails on a blackboard to many residents. The horn can regularly be heard up to three kilometres from its source.

Upon my election in March 2014, I inherited the debacle that is the train horns. This is the most common issue to be raised with me since. I have had young mums contact me whose children are constantly being woken up, I have been contacted by someone recovering from major brain surgery whose convalescence is being impinged by this noise, I have been contacted by a Vietnam veteran whose memories of the war are triggered by the horns, shift workers have pleaded with me to get the government to do something about this, and countless people have raised with me that these horns are a general detriment on their quality of life and the liveability of our community.

This is not a beat-up or an exaggeration. There are other issues that I would prefer to spend my time on. I did not think that train horns were destined to become the major focus of my first year in office. Part of my disbelief is that I find it difficult to understand how this has become such an intractable issue. After all, we are living in 2015. Surely, we have the technological capacity to create a safe railway corridor with a horn which does not invade our community with such perversity.

I am not a sound engineer but, from canvassing those who are, I know that modern sound engineering can accurately target sound to where it needs to go. The current positioning of the horns in the front of the trains scatters the sound across the landscape far further than it needs to go to warn those who are in immediate risk of an oncoming train.

I think the transport bureaucracy feels this is a trivial issue. I have experienced firsthand the icy lack of empathy from top bureaucrats, their one-liners about safety and their glib dismissal of reasonable alternatives, calling into question their role as a government agency established to serve South Australians. My correspondence, and that of residents living along the railway corridor, has been battered away with continuous references to safety.

Let me make this clear. This is not a battle between safety and horns. We are not advocating for the horns to be removed and we believe strongly that they should be used as warning devices in high-risk and emergency situations. However, the frequency, pitch and volume of the train blasts are a significant degradation of quality of life in this community. The changes we are pleading the minister and the department to implement will create a balance between residents and safety. We seek a review of the policies that govern the use of the horns, an assessment of what occurs interstate and overseas where there are many examples of horn disruption being mitigated, and a commitment to make the necessary changes to the sound. In January, I distributed a petition to 1,000 households which flank the train line. Today, that petition was tabled here in parliament, with 665 signatures. Given the relatively narrow distribution of this petition, members of this house would know that this level of signing-up is unprecedented.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the local community, who have risen up around this issue and worked with me over the last few months as we have researched, lobbied and fought for action on the horns. This issue is not about a lone politician looking for something to whinge about. It is a real issue which has the weight of the community behind it. Today, I am simply the messenger and I must acknowledge their hard work.

I am, like many of the other complainants who have signed this petition, a huge supporter of the electrification of the train line. I travel to parliament every sitting day on the train and I have used my brief time in this place to champion public transport. The electrified Seaford line is a great initiative, but it is completely tainted by the sound and use of the horn.

It should be in the DNA of a contemporary government to show empathy and compassion to its citizens. I beg the minister and the transport department to put themselves in the shoes of those who live in Brighton, Hove, Seacliff, Marino and Kingston Park and work endlessly until this problem is resolved—because that is what I intend to do.

Extracted from Hansard