Some Tukwila residents are complaining about high noise levels from the elevated Light Rail tracks.  The KOMO report seems to indicate that Sound Transit is going to mitigate it with either a sound wall or by soundproofing homes.

Oran recently took some video that might be useful for people to understand the noise levels on MLK, as compared to the general din of traffic.  As someone who lives a couple of blocks away from MLK, the noise is distinctive from the traffic noise, if not noticeably louder.

Certainly the bell is the part that’s most distinctive:

45 Replies to “Light Rail Noise”

  1. that’s really not all that bad

    if you live near the red, green or orange line in boston, even where it’s underground, the screeching is worse. it’s yet another sound of the city.

    if people don’t like it, they should move, but sell their property to the next buyer at pre-light rail values as opposed to the likely significantly higher values they draw now.


  2. I drove down MLK with my window open right next to the train and was blown away at how quiet the thing was. Living in a city is loud. I live with a view of SeaTac Airport and the most noise I get at my house is from the main road a half-block away.

    These people complaining about the noise are looking for a free hand-out. What a joke.

    1. I’m with Ben and Andrew. When I went to law school in San Diego, I lived in Mission Beach in the flight path for San Diego’s airport. I distinctly remember having to wait for flights to clear during phone calls and intermittently not being able to hear the TV. That’s noise. LRVs? Not so much.

  3. On the other hand, it can be hard to hear yourself think in the tunnel at times. I sometimes experience a perfect storm of a) a bus (not in hush mode) roaring by b) one of the never ending looped announcements and c) the full link railroad crossing bell (as opposed to a shorter single ring) – all at once. I can also hear the automated announcements all day long coming out of the tunnel entrance a few feet from my office.

    1. For your safety, please stay behind the yellow textured strip until the bus comes to a complete stop!

      I don’t like the train operators who go overboard on the bells in the tunnel. In replacement of or addition to the ring, make an arrival announcement: The train to SeaTac/Airport is now arriving. Please stay behind the yellow strip until the train comes to a complete stop.

      I love those announcements. I have a playlist on my iPod with only transit sound effects.

  4. That isn’t so bad at all, but the street is really load, and I grew up near Aurora Ave. It’s really just the Bell that is loud and for good measure, the trains are really quiet. Also I have only seen them in person in the the Transit Tunnel, and never on MLK but those trains can really haul ass!

  5. Having been down along MLK, the Link is loud and noisy. It creates earthquakes, injures innocent drivers, and sounds like an airplane. Oddly enough, at the same time when the Link sounded like an airplane, a plane was on approach to KSEA or KBFI. But that’s just coincidence. */sarcasm*

    Honestly, it sounds no louder than a hybrid bus and far quieter than most vehicles that drive along MLK. I live in Edmonds and have to hear trains 20 times a day. Do I complain? No.

    1. Because you like to hear trains 20 times a day ;)

      I used to hear the dinner train everyday (until it folded) and I liked it. Somewhere, there was a train.

    2. Honestly, it sounds no louder than a hybrid bus and far quieter than most vehicles that drive along MLK. I live in Edmonds and have to hear trains 20 times a day. Do I complain? No.

      If during peak times the light rail is going every seven minutes, that’s twenty times every two hours. The bells are obnoxious, there is no arguing that. It’s definitely better the old elevated trains of yesteryear, but they are loud.

      The idea behind putting the light rail at street level down MLK was to attract money, increase business revenue, etc. Loud = STAY AWAY = Less business money.

      I live two blocks from an intersection, and it’s obnoxious.

      Needs to be addressed. Right away.

      1. Geesh…. It’s not that loud at all. It’s just a “new” and different sound for Seattle so it is easy to notice it out of the din of all the other sounds that we have already become accustomed to. Give it a few months and people won’t even notice it – it will become just part of the background noise of city life.

        And I’m sure the amount of bell ringing will go down once the test/training period is over. And who complains about “bells” anyhow? As if there aren’t enough real world problems to complain about…

      2. I suppose you and your neighbors would rather the pleasant sounds of honking as pissed off people sit in traffic. I understand, the sound of angry car drivers is a rather pleasant one. Or how about those harley riders that love the sound of their loud engine? That is a good one too. Not like those awful sounding trains.

      3. I daresay that if I put you two blocks from Link, you won’t be able to hear it.

      4. I would actually say that from 10 blocks away, I can still hear just the sound of link trains running. I’m not saying it bothers me, but I do hear it distinctly.

  6. oh dear god…

    i lived in freiburg (vauban’s a district of it) for a year. oh how i wish we had a functioning transit system like they did.

    my apartment was just about a major tram stop – the trams would start up before 6 in the morning, and cause the most annoying screeches that would wake up heavy sleepers (like my fiancee). it was more annoying than the cathedral bells going off every 15 minutes.

    i’d give anything to be back there right now…

    additionally, the entire downtown was absent of cars, unless you lived there. most people didn’t own cars.

    1. Ahh – the calls to prayer from the mosques five times a day (and sunrise in the summer was early). The holidays where they come around a wake you at 2:30 so you can eat before your day of fasting. It’s amazing what one misses…

      I really do miss it.

    2. I spent a night in a mid-rise hotel right next to the Lloyd Center MAX station and I could hear the trains at times but it didn’t keep me awake.

      The easy access and free train rides were great.

  7. I don’t understand why trains in the US in general make so much more noise than necessary. In the United States, trains blow their extremely loud horns at every grade crossing. Add in the racket from the crossing gate bells and it just gives you a really bad image of trains in general as loud and noisy and just not desirable.

    In Europe and Japan trains never blow the horns except in an emergency. The grade crossings their are also relatively quiet since the bells are silenced when the gate is down. Why can’t the US adopt some of these practices?

    Examples of European trains at crossings:

    DMU train:


    DMU commuter train:

    VS US trains at crossings



    1. u.s. trains do what they do because idiots like the guy who blew a red light onto the train tracks the other day actually somehow win lawsuits

    2. I dunno…I travelled in Japan and I clearly remember the bells at the crossings. It became one of the emblems of my trip there such that when I used to watch Japanese soaps (I was trying hard to learn Japanese), hearing those bells in the background really reminded me of being there, in those urban/suburban neighborhoods off the tourist track.

  8. I should add that from Oran’s video, the train was a bit louder in a couple clips. There are technical reasons, though. From what I understand, when an electric train is received and still being burned in, techs are still tweaking with the systems. By the time they’re done, the trains should be much, much quieter.

    Until then, they can be noisy. I remember hearing some of the first trains testing in SoDo, and it was a horrible screeching noise.

  9. Ohfer….

    No. Diffrent. Than. MAX.

    People, get over it. I’m sorry, but this is here now and if you dont like it, LUMP IT.

  10. These trains are way quieter than trucks and busses in traffic, and that’s a scientific fact. Maybe people just aren’t used to that type of noise so it sounds louder because it sticks out more, if that makes sense.

    The bells however, are annoying. But they shouldn’t be sounding the bells on the elevated section anyway. There’s no mixed traffic on the elevated section.

    1. They might be testing the bells? I didn’t think they were going to sound them on elevated sections…

  11. Well, strange to say, at one time you could drive down MLK Way S and it was as quiet as a tomb. Blackberry bushes on vacant lots and boarded-up buildings didn’t make much sound.

    Compared with actual quiet, the sheer volume of sound in Seattle is of a Niagara Falls quantity. If noise bothers you, you’re not even ‘hearing’ the part that bothers you the most- the sound of the tires. This is often the loudest part of a modern car, and if you listen to too much of it, the addition of studs in the winter is a real curse.

    But we all know how this will play out- on the even-numbered days they will complain about the noise, and on the odd-numbered days they will complain that the trains ‘sneak up’ on people and cause accidents. ‘Twas ever thus.

  12. If you want to talk about noise, go to google maps and enter “SE Washington & SE 10th, hillsboro, oregon”. You’ll get smack dab in the middle of the MAX alignment as it heads toward its western terminus. To the west is the at-grade street-sharing portion of the alignment with no fences to separate it from homes, to the east is a portion where there is a “noise wall” that doesn’t stop any noise at all.

    You get used to it really fast.

    Myself, I stayed a week in NYC next to the 7 over Queens Blvd. It passed so close to my motel room (Days Inn, Long Island City for you railfans, next to 33rd-Rawson) that I had a “hello, world” embarrassing moment after a shower one of the mornings. The noise was noticeable for a new york minute, but you get used to it. You only really care when people point it out and say, “Gosh, it’s so loud!”

    1. While I wish it could be 20 decibels quieter, I really love the sound of the NY Subway.

      1. Just have returned from NYC – there IS something special about the noises in the subway there. Deafening and reassuring at the same time?

  13. The other place that Light Rail makes more noise is on curves, the steel wheels on the steel track have a bit of the screech to them.

    The noise level was one of the reasons that Alweg Monorail was sold to the public, that rubber tires made less noise. MagLev of course will make even less track noise.

    For my money, the worst noise is the crossing gates in SODO plus the trail bells. It’s a racket to raise the dead. But the SODO crossings have as neighbors steel fabrication and other metal work!

  14. I suspect the issue isn’t so much volume as pitch. The regular traffic is very loud.

  15. It will take several months for the noise level and people’s perceptions of it to stabilize, just like it will take several months for ridership to stabilize. I saw one train that seemed louder than I expected, and another that didn’t. It also depends on the amount of traffic at the moment the train is passing. If the trains still sound disruptive next year, then we can ask Sound Transit to tweak the bells.

    As for why mainline trains blow their horns at intersections, it could be a historical tradition fossilized into law, or it could be that Americans are more likely than others to be standing on the tracks. I don’t know which. But certainly in rural America it was traditional to walk on the tracks, and I’ve seen it also around Carkeek Park to get to the part of the beach that’s accessible only from the track.

  16. Meanwhile, un-mufflered Harley-Davidsons continue to use the public highways unabated.

    And isn’t Tukwila a city where they welcome the Blue Angels?

      1. Not to mention the noise of the Blue Angels over Seattle each summer – THAT we can do without!

  17. a couple of blocks away from MLK, the noise is distinctive from the traffic din, if not noticeably louder.

    My sister-in-law lives along MLK and says the same thing. The trains seem to have much more of a low frequency component (sort of a whoosh) that travels through the ground and will be difficult if not impossible to mitigate. It’s not what you’d want to hear at your mountain cabin along side the lake but in an urban environment this will likely fall into the background fairly quick. As far as the bells, well she uses a little stronger language than “distinctive”. The bells/horns are warning signals that become useless if they blend into background noise. If people stop paying attention they will be changed to something even more “distinctive”.

    Interesting about Tukwila. I haven’t heard the trains down there yet and was wondering what the noise would be like compared to at grade. I was thinking that just based on fewer warning alarms elevated would be preferable but not if elevating the tracks acts like a stadium loud speaker broadcasting the sound to a wider area.

    You might be able to sell the bells and whistles to residents in the RV but it’ll never make the grade in Bellevue. “No way, not no how” will there ever be at grade light rail through downtown Bellevue. I seriously doubt elevated will fly either. I think it’s down to a tunnel or nothing (as in no East Link) and I wouldn’t make a bet either way since I have no clue where the money might rain down from.

    Staying along the I-405/SR-520 corridor was never on the table. Even the sections that were lost out. But is seems that if the argument is to be made convincingly on the eastside that light rail noise will “blend in” that would be the only sensible option. Last mile connections need to be provided for no matter which alignment you prefer since walk-on customers aren’t a captive audience in Bellevue the way they are in the RV.

    1. well the thing is, if ST elevates the track in Bellevue (outside of Downtown) then there are no crossing gates, and therefore no bells at crossings either from the train or the gates. Then the only irrating noise is the train wheels on the track as it goes around a tight curve. But with an elevated track, it’s possible to make the curves a bit wider and then wha-la! Less noise!

      East Link is not going to rise/fall on track noise or gate crossing noise. The floating bridge technology is the key one and funding for the downtown Bellevue tunnel key two, which IMO is key to getting the city to buy in and fully support it. Then elevate the rest all the way to Redmond. You’ll get no noise complaints once you leave the Downtown Bellevue area the rest of the way it passes through light industrial. It may be zoned for residential but it’s not now and with the economy still in the long grind back up is unlikely to change anytime soon.

      1. Oran, we’ve got those in one or two spots near I-5 and 599, don’t we?

  18. What’s been most noticeable to me since they’ve been testing is the low frequency vibration. I’ve felt it downtown from street level especially around the International District station. But then you also feel the BNSF and Amtrak trains going through the GN tunnel and down the mainline along King Street Station and Qwest Field.

    Other than the “bell” there really isn’t anything that would annoy me that much even if I lived right next to the tracks.

  19. I guess I’m the only one who seems not to mind the bells. Now I’ve only been in the DSTT two or three times since testing began in earnest. I thought I liked them, but will listen more attentively. Maybe I’ll get them to annoy me :)

  20. THE BELLS AND RINGING ARE TOOO LOUD!!! I live a couple blocks away from MLK. The bells need to be turned waay down. I can hear them ringing throughout my house day and night. After many complaints they have adjusted the bells which were ringing at night (up to 1am).

    It is driving me crazy in my own house and bringing down adjacent home values, rather than increasing them. I am hopeful they are still working on it!

    For any other people being driven crazy or finding it too loud from inside their house near MLK, I’ve been told to send complaints to:

    Johnathan H. Jackson
    RSIP Manager
    Link Light Rail Department


    Darlene Pahlman
    City of Seattle Signal/Bell Lead
    City’s Signal Engineers

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