The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr D complains that Transport for London has failed to take action to reduce vibrations in his property caused by underground trains. The Ombudsman has found fault causing injustice. The Authority has agreed to reconsider what action it can take.
- Mr D complains that Transport for London (the Authority) has failed to take action to reduce vibrations in his property caused by underground trains.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether an Authority’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with an Authority’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I spoke to Mr D about his complaint and considered the information he sent and the Authority’s response to my enquiries.
- I sent Mr D and the Council my draft decision and considered the comments I received.
What I found
- Transport for London (the Authority) has a statutory duty to run the underground system. There are no legal limits on the amount of noise or vibration that can be emitted from trains operating on railways. The Authority says it will use its best endeavours to minimise disturbance and keep noise and vibration to a minimum while it carries out its statutory functions.
- The Authority has published a leaflet for the public about noise and vibration from public transport services. It says underground trains can cause ground-borne noise or vibration in properties close to the line. This may be a rumble, or a more “impulsive” noise if a train crosses a joint or other discontinuity in the rail, such as a set of points. The condition of the track may also affect the level of noise or vibration. The rail can become corrugated as it gets rougher with age. These irregularities on the surface of the rail often contribute to increased levels of noise and vibrations. Maintenance is therefore undertaken to maintain the rail head.
- The Authority prioritises work on a case by case basis, taking into account the number of complaints from a particular area and the noise levels recorded there.
- Mr D lives in a flat near two underground lines. He complained to the Authority about the vibrations in his property from passing trains. Mr D says the vibrations cause disturbance and occur every seven minutes from 5am to 1.30am every day.
- Engineers measured the noise and vibrations in Mr D’s property in November 2017 and issued a report in December 2017. Mr D said the positioning of the Tube line in the map in the report was incorrect. The Authority checked and found the train line was closer to the property than the report suggested. It issued an amended report on 16 February 2018.
- The report said the vibrations in Mr D’s property were being caused by the trains travelling over nearby sets of points. The Authority therefore could take no action to reduce the vibrations.
- Mr D considered the report did not answer all his questions. He disputed whether the points were the cause and continued to correspond with the Authority. He asked for the findings to be reviewed.
- In June 2018 the Authority agreed to re-take the noise and vibration measurements at Mr D’s property. It did so and issued a further report on 30 July 2018.
- The July 2018 report said:
“the impulsive characteristic of the noise and vibration was thought to be related to the close proximity of points. … However, some other track feature is contributing to the impulsive character, because … a secondary peak can be identified. … As such, it seems possible that the vibration experienced in the property is being induced by the corrugation located just before the nose of the [points and crossings]…”
The report included photographs of the corrugated rails near the points.
- Mr D asked the Authority if it could take measures to reduce the corrugation and whether the condition of the points had been assessed. The Authority replied that the track was inspected weekly and the points and crossings were inspected every four weeks. It repeated that it had concluded that the vibrations occur as his property is adjacent to points and crossings. These could not be moved or made less impulsive and it could therefore take no action to reduce the vibrations.
- Mr D complained to the Ombudsman.
- It is not the Ombudsman’s role to determine what is causing the vibrations from the railway lines near Mr D’s property, or to decide what actions can be taken to deal with it. My role is to consider whether there has been any administrative fault in the way the Authority has dealt with the matter.
- When notified of the problem, the Authority took steps to investigate and visited Mr D’s property twice. There is no fault here.
- However, the July 2018 report refers to the corrugation of rails near the points. Whilst the Authority regularly inspects those points, it is not clear to me that action has been taken to reduce that corrugation. I cannot say that reducing the corrugation would reduce the vibrations. However, I have not seen the evidence that the Authority has properly considered what action it could take to reduce the corrugation near the points identified in the report.
- The Authority has said it can take no action because the vibrations are caused by the points, but this does not deal with the full findings of the July 2018 report.
- I therefore find fault as the Authority has not taken all reasonable steps to minimise the disturbance to Mr D.
- This has caused injustice to Mr D, as he is uncertain whether the vibrations may be reduced. He has also been caused time and trouble in pursuing the matter.
- The Authority has agreed to, within a month of my final decision:
- retake the measurements at Mr D’s property, have them reviewed by its engineering team and issue an updated report.
- consider what action can be taken to reduce any corrugation identified on the rails near the points
- write to Mr D setting out what action it is taking
- apologise to Mr D and pay him £150 to acknowledge the uncertainty and time and trouble he has been caused
- There was fault causing injustice. The actions the Authority has agreed to take remedy the injustice caused. I have completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman