How to keep local residents happy during railway construction work?
In May, the tracks were closed to trains for 28.5 days to work on the Groningen Spoorzone [Railway Zone] project. Lotte Diephuis was involved in the project as Environment Manager to keep local residents informed about any expected nuisance. This is her blog about this 28.5-day period.
Many local residents enjoyed watching the construction work. They made sure to make full use of their front row seat
Staring at Graphs
Railway work causes various types of nuisance: noise, vibration, extra-bright construction lighting during night work and traffic detours. During this project we were also faced with a different kind of nuisance: people urinating in public. Some railway workers did not feel like walking all the way to the portable toilets and used the closest tree for that purpose. Since there were quite a few people living close to the tracks, this unfortunate habit did not go unnoticed. Naturally, we immediately informed the team of this practice.
Furthermore, at the request of the municipality, we very precisely measured construction noise at several locations. This was an additional requirement due to the lockdown, because local residents were unable to escape any nuisance. For this reason, the municipality of Groningen was even more strict in ensuring that we stayed within the promised construction noise limits. We identified the expected noise levels as detailed as possible in advance and during the 28.5-day construction period we used sensors to measure the number of decibels. I spent quite a few hours staring at all of the graphs that rolled across my computer screen.
“During this project we were faced with a different kind of nuisance: people urinating in public”
The team anxiously awaited the results of these measurements, because there were no alternative work methods should the noise prove to be excessive. Fortunately things turned out well: on average the findings were perfectly in line with our projected values. However, the peaks were more severe than we had expected. On the one hand this was annoying, but we also learned something from this. We know exactly how much noise the tamping machine and the roller cranes produce, and as it turned out, they were not the problem. The peaks occurred at the depots: unloading of ballast, vehicles driving across rattling road plates and trucks that let their tailgate slam. I shared the recordings with the team and we were often able to reduce noise levels, but not always. It was good to increase awareness in this area: unloading ballast at night is not the best option and the team had to ask suppliers to calmly drive across the road plates.
Hall versus Online
The coronavirus forced us to make some other adjustments as well: the residents’ evening information session planned for April in a hall in Groningen had to be cancelled. Of course, we could not just let this go by the wayside, and we still wanted to provide local residents with a briefing and explanatory materials. So instead, we created an online version – a webinar – for this meeting. About 300 people watched our webinar live. By way of comparison 400 people were present during the residents’ evening information session in the summer of 2019. However, ultimately the online webinar won out, because another 500 people watched it on YouTube. Furthermore, ProRail informed many thousands of local residents by letter and there is an extensive website about the project.
Front Row Seat
After making all of the necessary preparations and communications, all we could do was wait and see how things were going to turn out over the 28.5-day period in terms of complaints. All in all, things turned out better than expected. We received quite a few calls during the first week, but after that things calmed down. All in all we received 25 complaints for Strukton over the entire period, including noise, vibration and traffic detours. When you consider that there are thousands of people living in the work area, 25 complaints is really very little. We also received positive feedback: many residents enjoyed watching the construction work. They made sure to make full use of their front row seat.
This is my first railway project as Environment Manager and it certainly won’t be my last. That’s fortunate, because I really enjoyed working on this project and I got to know many great ‘colleagues’. I am also getting a pretty good handle on the railway jargon. On the other hand, the railway people are increasingly better understanding my work as well. It is important to give due consideration to the environment in which you work. Rules are becoming more strict, local residents are becoming more vocal and clients more demanding. Fortunately, this project is not yet ready. Next year there will be additional downtimes and we will be able to work together again.