A closer look at rail methodology in the BTS National Transportation Noise Map



In 2017, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics released the inaugural national, multi-modal transportation noise map prototype.  The noise modeling and mapping effort was envisioned as a way to facilitate the geographic tracking of national trends and provide insight into transportation noise-related questions as changes occur over time – changes between modes, types of vehicles within modes and the geographic shifts of populations.  How do changes in aircraft technology change the transportation noise landscape? Does increased high speed rail availability affect highway-related noise? How does a population shift away from urban centers affect the soundscape?  The inaugural model included aviation and highway sources. The first update, released in November 2020, includes passenger rail-related noise in addition to aviation and highway sources. Operations in this new mode include commuter rail mainline, high-speed electric, light rail, heavy rail and streetcars, along with commuter rail horns at highway-rail grade crossings. The data for this noise map were modeled based on USDOT methods, with adjustments and simplifications to model on a national scale.  This paper focuses on the modeling methods and geospatial approach used to develop the passenger rail noise data layer.