Two years later, Sound Transit still hasn't fully tamed the problem of noise from its Link light-rail trains.

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Two years later, Sound Transit still hasn’t fully tamed the problem of noise from its Link light-rail trains.

The agency and contractors have made progress — especially in Tukwila, where a noise expert found in November that volumes have been reduced as much as 10 decibels and now meet federal standards.

Nonetheless, the agency is poised to spend millions more for noise control.

The transit board’s operations committee Thursday approved a $550,000 engineering contract with Florida-based Advanced Rail Management to analyze the trackway and trains. The board is expected to approve a $2.6 million contract with the Seattle branch of Jones Payne Group to design and oversee retrofits of homes and businesses in Rainier Valley.

Additional money will be paid for small businesses to retrofit 165 homes over the next year, after 138 residences were already improved. Total costs will reach $12 million, said light-rail Director Ahmad Fazel.

Soundproofing has averaged $30,000 per house and can include windows, attics, doors, even fans to circulate air when windows are closed. “Not one of those impacted residents has called us with a new complaint of noise in the Rainier Valley,” said project manager Johnathan Jackson.

Train operators have been instructed to use their warning bells less often, while pedestrian alarms at intersections were reset to not exceed surrounding noise by more than a few decibels. Crews have gone out at night to grind the rails smoother, which often helped, but a couple times made them louder.

Link service began in 2009, and will be extended to north, east and south suburbs by the early 2020s.

Politically, train noise is a major issue in Bellevue, where a City Council majority and neighborhood groups have criticized a proposed track alignment past the residential Surrey Downs area, south of downtown.

There now remain 95 affected buildings in Rainier Valley. Nine are “severe,” which typically means train sounds four to six decibels above other noise, said James Irish, a Sound Transit environmental manager.

The worst spots are two crossovers, near Mount Baker Station and near Othello Station, where trains go “ka-thunk.” Crews will insulate homes in the Cheasty Greenbelt, a hillside west of the Mount Baker switch.

In Tukwila, the agency has been attempting to deflect wheel noise at its source, the overhead track.

Dave Burleson, who lives in an older rental house, said trains originally filled his “sound vortex,” in a valley where Interstate 5 and Highway 518 meet. “The screeching noise was so loud, it was not even absorbed by all the freeway noise,” he said. Now he can hear only the northbound trains, and not as much.

Sound Transit has installed nearly a mile of plastic barrier since 2009 on the trackway spans. “We’ve never had a problem with noise, not a single complaint,” said Debra Nisco, assistant manager of the 210-unit Boulevard at South Station. “Sometimes, you hear a wheel, a squeaky noise.”

In the worst spot, south of the Duwamish River Bridge, readings used to exceed 80 decibels, equivalent to a garbage disposal. They’ve improved to 77 decibels northbound and 69 decibels southbound, Irish said. A 10-decibel increase is perceived by humans as a doubling of sound.

Neighbor David Shumate said the plastic barrier has lowered the readings, “but I don’t see it as a permanent solution.” He wants stronger, steel panels.

Light-rail manager Fazel said lessons here will be applied to East Link. The worker-safety fence along elevated tracks will be extra strong — just in case Sound Transit has to add heavy duty noise barriers.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com