Abstract The impact of noise on the population is one of the major environmental problems faced by the European railways. Technical solutions are now available which allow the noise problem largely to be solved at an acceptable cost. However, the European railway companies rarely use these solutions. For the rapid introduction of low-noise railbound vehicles, legal and economic instruments must therefore be used. The most effective instrument among them is the enforcement of ambitious European noise emission limits for railway vehicles. These noise regulations have to be complemented by economic instruments such as emission-related track charges.