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New Prague streetcars reverse noise pollution

An overlooked benefit of streetcars is the reduction in noise pollution associated with bus and car traffic. In fact, some pedestrians in Prague say the newest streetcars from Skoda are too quiet!

Latest streetcars in historic Prague. Image from

An article from iDnes, a Czech news portal, describes the experiences of operators of the new 15T streetcars built by Skoda for the Czech capital's tram system. Operators of the new streetcars have to be alert to pedestrians who may not hear them approach.

Other improvements include cruise control and the addition of an engine for each wheel. Operators can also now control engines for each wheel, sometimes shutting off up to 16 engines based on the presence of hills.

The District owns three Skoda-Inekon 12-Trio streetcars, currently parked at Metro's Greenbelt yard. They were built by a joint venture between Skoda and Inekon, another Czech streetcar manufacturer. The joint venture dissolved around the time DC's streetcars were being constructed, and the 15T is the latest model introduced by Skoda while Inekon has not produced any subsequent models. Riga, Latvia has also purchased the Skoda 15T streetcars.

Any vehicle powered by an on-board internal combustion engine generates more noise than one powered by electricity, be it from a battery or from an overhead or underground wire. Modern streetcars are even quieter than the trolleys that were commonplace in the early and mid 20th century.

Buses are the source of DC residents' particularly frequent traffic noise complaints. As streetcars being operation in DC and replacing buses on the busiest routes, the benefit to the quality of our daily lives and the enjoyability of our urban spaces will be significant. Newer streetcar models will further boost the mode's advantage.

Now if only there were a way to push emergency vehicles speedily through traffic without sirens...

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 


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Getting off the main post for a second, I have to ask, is bus noise really a source of frequent complaints in DC?

Having lived here long enough to clearly remember the fleet of roaring, black smoke diesel beasts of the 80's and early 90's, I've frequently sat in parks, street benches etc in DC and consciously noticed how quiet and exhaust free (atleast visably) metros fleet has become, and circulator buses currently are.

Metro's fleet of nat/gas or diesel/electric hybrids is the quietest I've ever ridden (world wide). That isn't to say it wouldn't be annoying to have an apt right outside a bus stop, or that buses won't continue to get quieter, I just can't imagine that there are a lot of people out there who complain about their noise.

by freely on Sep 22, 2011 2:09 pm • linkreport

The engines are turned on all the time, but up to half of them may be switched off in case of a malfunction. Then the tram will still have enough power to get to depot on its own (with all the engines the version for Prague has 1000HP).

15T is a revolutionary model as it is the first one worldwide to have pivoting bogies and 100% low floor. Those DC has bought have fixed bogies. Fixed bogies are fine on new tracks, however they do too much tear and wear to old tram networks which tend to have loads of small radius curves. Also fixed bogies usually make squeaky sounds in curves, and the tram must go very slowly through a curve in order to prevent derailment. On the other hand on nice long straight sections the articulated trams with fixed bogies have much smoother ride quality.

and for those used in Portland, Seattle and DC

by Bungameng on Sep 22, 2011 2:19 pm • linkreport

Are those wood seat backs? Classy.
I was in Prague in 1990 and there was a streetcar line right outside the window of the flat where I stayed. It was noticable, but less noisy than a bus, and those cars were ancient then.

I don't want to go off topic but to reply to freely, the noise problem I have isn't so much with the engine, but with the myriad beeps, chirps, and annuciators.

by spookiness on Sep 22, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

@freely, I don't complain about the bus noise, because I don't see a better option. I live near five bus stations, so it's pretty much constant.

That said, I'd love not to have it, and would complain loudly if there was a better way. Bus noise is a significant quality of life problem, although not as much of one as lack of bus service.

by Tim Krepp on Sep 22, 2011 2:53 pm • linkreport

@freely - I live on a bus route, and I can tell you, those vehicles are pretty loud. If my windows are open, the noise is really disruptive (and many of the buses going by are the newest models).

by Esmeralda on Sep 22, 2011 3:24 pm • linkreport

The terminology in the third paragraph is incorrect and conveys the wrong information. It should be "motor" at each wheel not "engine."

by Some Ideas on Sep 22, 2011 3:33 pm • linkreport

Buses are *ONE OF* the source of DC residents' particularly frequent traffic noise complaints.

by JMC on Sep 22, 2011 4:57 pm • linkreport

LOL ... from the title, I was expecting to read that they'd come up with something like the 'white noise' machines people put by their besides to drown out other noises ....

by Lance on Sep 22, 2011 7:38 pm • linkreport


by Lance on Sep 22, 2011 7:39 pm • linkreport

Now only if we can get commuters from VA and MD to lay off their horns during rush hour. Everyday between 5 - 7 the noise outside my house is unbearable, I would much rather it be a bus carrying more than 1 person/car.

by rgrace on Sep 22, 2011 7:54 pm • linkreport

@rgrace "Now only if we can get commuters from VA and MD to lay off their horns during rush hour.

That's a simple one. In Paris drivers aren't allowed to use their horns. They flash their headlights instead. This is something the Council could institute in a day ...

by Lance on Sep 23, 2011 12:27 am • linkreport

Buses are *ONE OF* the source of DC residents' particularly frequent traffic noise complaints.

Older diesel buses. Newer hybrid electric ones (and some of the new fully electric ones) are very, very quiet.

by AA on Sep 23, 2011 9:25 am • linkreport

Noise pollution isn't everything try living near the Capitol, a Police Station or Fire Station, construction sites try hearing a jackhammer startup 5am everyday.

There are more than just buses try living on or one block from East Capitol, North Capitol, South Capitol Streets, New York, Penn, Rhode Island, Southern, or Eastern Avenues buses are the least of your worries.

by kk on Sep 23, 2011 11:04 am • linkreport

@kk, My street has fire trucks, police cars, and any number of sirens at all hours of the day. They bother me far less than the buses do. And I do live one block from East Capitol.

by Tim Krepp on Sep 23, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

@ Tim Krepp

I dont know what part of East Capitol you live near but for me WMATA buses were the least of the noise.

I lived on East Capitol 15 to 20 years ago near the Capitol View Area and heard Firetrucks and Policecars racing up and down East Capitol as its the only straight street in the area with the exception of Central Ave. On a daily basis I would hear Fire Trucks, Police Cars, Private Trucks/Cars,School Buses (DC and PG County) Private Buses (non WMATA) and Metrobuses.

Many times Firetrucks would have to make U turns on East Capitol due to the Median from 40th Street to 49th Street.

Metrobuses were not a problem due to the W4, U4 (replace by U5, U6), 40,44 (replaced by 96,97) not running that often. The only time there was a real problem with WMATA buses is during Snow Emergency when WMATA decides to run all buses down Central Ave due to not being able to make it up the East Capitol Street Hill. Besides then the amount of Private Automobiles, Commerical Trucks or Cars, Firetrucks, Police Cars, MTA buses, School Buses would outnumber any in service WMATA buses that were operating on routes in the area.

During any event at FedEx Field or RFK East Capitol would be backed up from where Independence/22nd/Constitution meet up to Addison Road in Seat Pleasant, MD.

by kk on Sep 23, 2011 11:40 am • linkreport

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