Network Rail Lays First Recycled Plastic Railway Sleepers

Network Rail has introduced the first composite railway sleepers on its main line tracks.

Composite sleepers on Sherrington Viaduct, near Salisbury
Composite sleepers on Sherrington Viaduct, near Salisbury

Made from recycled plastic, engineers recently installed the environmentally-friendly technology across the weight-restricted Sherrington Viaduct between Salisbury and Warminster in Wiltshire.

Previously, track across the viaduct would have been fitted with wooden sleepers, as concrete would have been too heavy for the structure. From 31 July creosote-treated softwood sleepers will be banned, and the wood alternative would be sleepers made with hardwood. Instead, these new sleepers, manufactured in the UK by Sicut Ltd, use a blend of locally-sourced plastic waste that may otherwise end up at landfill.

Mark Killick, Network Rail’s Wessex Route Director, said:

“This is an exciting development; use of these recycled sleepers on the Network Rail Wessex route is a first for the overground railway network in Britain.

“Rail is already one of the greenest ways to travel, but we’re committed to even greener and better journeys whether this be changing how we maintain the lineside or finding innovative ways to improve the railway by reusing materials and reducing landfill.

“By using these sleepers, not only are we upgrading the track for customers, they will be travelling on a railway laid using sustainable materials as part of the circular economy.”

Recycled composite sleepers will help Network Rail achieve its zero carbon 2050 target thanks to a minimum 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from sleeper production, and incorporating recycled plastic within track infrastructure for at least 50 years.

The sleepers also offer an increase in service life and reduced maintenance compared with timber sleepers, helping to reduce both whole life costs and the risks to staff when working on site.

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