Virtual Acoustic Advisor helps making noise impact models for entire Dutch railway network

How do you build an acoustic model of the entire Dutch railway net when time and staff are limited? This is the challenge that ProRail faces each year to comply with the Dutch law. Instead of using a lot of resources, we were convinced this could be done in a more clever way. We developed the Virtual Acoustic Advisor together with ProRail. It is a software tool: a smart combination of automatic processing and user interaction. With the tool, it is possible to work out a complete model from a bulk of complex data in a matter of days instead of months. This month an important milestone was reached: the first models were made with this tool.

Since 2013 rail and road operators in the Netherlands are required to report their yearly noise emission. These reports must demonstrate that on the whole network, the noise level complies with the local "noise emission ceiling" ("GPP" = GeluidsProductiePlafond).

With changing traffic density, changing train schedules and thousands of kilometers of rail and road, creating such a report on a yearly basis is a major task that requires a considerable staff of acoustic experts and GIS personnel.

Dutch rail operator ProRail approached us to find a way to comply with these legal requirements. Together with them, we developed a software tool called Virtual Acoustic Advisor or VAA in short. VAA creates an accurate and consistent acoustic model of the entire Dutch railway network. It is written as a .Net plugin to the well-known GIS system ArcGis.

The tool uses a variety of geographic and administrative data to build the model. Facing a bulk of incomplete and partly inconsistent data, we had to choose between automatic or user-interactive processing. Automatic processing is fast, yet, it cannot deal well with inconsistencies in the data. Manual processing takes a lot of time, is prone to human error and there is a risk that manual changes have to be entered repeatedly when data further upstream in the process changes.

After all, we did not put up with having to make this choice. We decided to have the given data processed automatically, whenever possible. User interaction is only required in case of incomplete or inconsistent input data. There an expert has to decide what to do. Strong visual support helps the user to work accurately and efficiently. Once user interaction with the data has taken place, the manual changes are saved as repeatable operations. Thus, if need be, they can be re-applied automatically at a later stage. That way valuable time spent by experts is not lost when data earlier on in the process changes. And it makes both automatic and interactive data processing 100% traceable.

On the completed acoustic model ProRail can "run" the train schedules and calculate the resulting noise levels.

During the past month, VAA was first used to build a complete model of the railway network in 2013. All recent changes and extensions to their infrastructure had to be incorporated. The edits were carried out by a small team of M+P and ProRail experts.The enhanced model will now be used to calculate average noise emitted in 2013. Subsequently  the results will be reported to the Minister of Infrastructure and Environment.

With the Virtual Acoustic Advisor M+P and ProRail came up with an intelligent response to a major challenge. An operation that would otherwise require office floors full of GIS editors and certainly more than one year can be finished accurately and on time by a small expert team.

September 2014

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