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Do you ever worry that the tube might be too loud?
Well, your fears aren't misplaced. Research by EAVE — an organisation dedicated to the prevention of avoidable hearing loss — uncovers just how serious the problem is.
37 London Underground routes have noise levels in excess of 85 decibels — the point at which noise is generally considered harmful. Quite incredibly, on the section of track between Canary Wharf and North Greenwich on the Jubilee line, EAVE recorded peak noise levels of 105dB. That's akin to a helicopter taking off next to you.
On top of that, 81 stations have noise levels at which protective equipment would be required if you were working there in a corporate environment.
The noisiest line is the Victoria line — the track between Euston and Warren Street is the only point on the entire journey when noise levels dip below 80dB. The Bakerloo, Central, Jubilee and Piccadilly lines all performed similarly dismally. The safer-for-hearing lines tended to be the sub-surface level ones, with the Metropolitan line performing the best, and the District line also showing promising results.
There is one caveat with this data. It was collected by members of the EAVE team while they were attempting to complete the tube challenge — visit every station in the fastest possible time — to raise money for hearing loss charities. This is a highly stressful and strenuous undergoing. While the fact that they were simultaneously recording data is impressive, these probably aren't considered ideal experiment conditions, as highlighted by some missing data on parts of the Metropolitan line.
EAVE founder and CEO, Dr. David Greenberg, comments:
While the noise level figures collected on the EAVE Tube Challenge were not wholly unexpected, the number of stages that exceed 85dB is concerning and we would like to see hearing protection and signage offered as standard on those stations and lines above 80dB.
The World Health Organisation estimates that unaddressed hearing loss poses an annual global cost of US$750 billion. And yet most people remain unaware of the factors that could lead to deafness. Taking a few precautionary measures, including the use of protective equipment or noise reduction headphones on your daily commute, as long as the headphone output is at a safe level, has the potential to save you from a life-changing disability. We're hoping that these figures will help draw attention to that fact.
However despite this data, TfL's health and safety guidance suggests that noise from the tube is highly unlikely to cause long term hearing damage.