Sam Sherwood-Hale, Editor of Rail Professional spoke to Steve Barnes Business Development Manager at Gramm Barrier Systems about improving air quality, noise pollution, and sustainability

You’ve been Business Development Manager at Gramm Barrier Systems for over five years, how has the company’s technology developed in that time?

Well since I have been with Gramm we’ve gone from noise barriers to some really innovative and sustainable solutions. The sign of a great company is to keep moving with the market.

What are some of the most innovative solutions to rail noise?

Things like our Network Rail Approved WhisWall which is a low level barrier at only one metre high and uses diffraction but gives the same results as a three-metre high barrier. Then there’s SilentRail, a coating which is applied directly to the web of track that reduces noise but also can stop buckling in high temperatures. POLYSoundBlok is a high strength polymer barrier and METASoundBlok a steel barrier both with excellent noise reduction.

CONCRETESoundBlok a concrete panel with wood-crete absorber has a 60-year life span, great performance and excellent fi re rating, making it highly suitable for high-speed rail. We are now using low-carbon concrete and manufacturing in UK compared to European imports.

What are the main differences between your Acoustic Barriers and what are the pros and cons of each?
Pros and cons are difficult to establish but for instance, METASoundBlok has an excellent 60-year life span however it cannot be installed for projects which require non-conductivity. POLYSoundBlok has a 40-year life but is non-conductive so can’t be used on OLE projects. That’s why we always work with our clients to meet and manage their expectations.

How important is Acoustic Fencing and what exactly does it do?

It is really important if you live near a rail track or depot. This is where empathy might be lacking as the fencing is there to protect the residents from rail noise which has been proven globally to cause an impact on health. There are also some legal obligations on the part of the rail maintainer and contractor to make sure that operational noise is at a set limit. For so long in the rail industry
the focus has been on doing the minimum whilst now the impact on health and legal requirements are focussing more teams on the fact that a noise barrier is an asset. With more freight now being considered to also aid traffic pollution, this will mean more barrier required across the UK.

How do you determine what Acoustic Fencing needs to be installed?
We have acousticians and designers produce noise reports. I have seen some great reports but also very poor ones. So the solution is only as good as the report and specification behind it. On top of this the client may require solutions which have lower carbon, are easier to maintain, bio-diverse or with a longer life span. So its not always about the noise performance. A noise barrier is a
structure and as such has structural needs which many contractors forget about, such as wind loading or fire rating where some solutions are not checked or specified so become a liability for the contractor/ client. It is for these reasons that we are generally seeing a move away from timber and an influx of more man-made materials. GRAMM have recently repaired noise barriers supplied by other contractors that were only two years old.

What is a typical process you would follow with a client, from discovering a site where noise is an issue, for example, all the way up to installation?

We always support with early contractor involvement where we can and then following up in supporting design through to choices of materials which meet the client and contractor’s requirements right through to final installation. This has been our way for over 25 years in rail industry. Once a specification is written based on the key requirements – noise performance, structural and other sustainability requirements. Several products are then evaluated based on the key areas. Installation can be straight forward or extreme if on embankments, bridges, tight access areas etc. and so require careful planning, coordination, and management. The installation is then project managed by our teams through to final inspection and ultimate client hand over. Collaboration with the client throughout the entire process is key.

Have you changed the way you’ve approached project programmes over the last two years?
We are now at a point where we’re being asked to support clients with innovation and solutions which meet key objectives at an earlier design stage. Whole Life Cost is one key objective given all clients want less time on site and solutions which can reduce carbon like Project Speed mean quicker installation which then results in less time on site.

How passionate are you about sustainability in our sector? How do you go about sourcing the material for your products?

This is a core philosophy and where we differentiate ourselves from just being installers. We work with our supply chain to manage clients’ requirements such as having a long lifespan, lower carbon footprint and being recyclable at the end of life. Systems which are quicker to install and require fewer inspections saving natural resources and labour in a truly sustainable approach.

What about air quality, what can be done to improve air quality?
GRAMM has solutions which can target air quality and biodiversity. For instance, we have SmogStop our air quality barrier and ECOSoundBlok which is a living barrier which has no post or foundations that can also be planted. Its footprint is so small it can allow much more biodiversity points compared to planting trees.

What is SmogStop and how can it remove up to 50 per cent traffic pollution?
GRAMM are the European Partner for SmogStop which is an air quality barrier which removes NOx from engine emission and VOC which can be found around rail depots, stations and access roads to railway infrastructure. So it’s a perfect tie in with our SmogStop which is what I call a NOW solution that deals with the problem today.

If you have any rail projects you would like to discuss contact Steve via email at

Steve Barnes is Business Development Manager at Gramm Barrier Systems