Resource Use

Network Rail introduces recycled plastic railway sleepers

Network Rail has introduced the first composite railway sleepers onto its main line tracks, composed out of old bottles, food packaging and other used plastics.

The technology was installed by engineers across the weight-restricted Sherrington Viaduct, between Salisbury and Warminster, as part of a recent renewal of the busy railway junction.

Recycled plastic railway sleepersPreviously, track across the viaduct would have had to be fitted with wooden sleepers, as concrete would have been too heavy for the structure.

However, from 31 July this year, creosote-treated softwood sleepers will be banned, leaving the option of sleepers made with hardwood, which are mainly sourced from Brazil

The new recycled sleepers are manufactured in the UK by Sicut Ltd, a supplier of sustainable infrastructure products, using a blend of locally-sourced plastic waste that may have otherwise ended up in landfill.

The introduction of the recycled composite sleepers form part of Network Rail’s Zero Carbon 2050 target due to at least a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from sleeper production.

The recycled sleepers will 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 who attend the site.

Unlike traditional wooden sleepers, composite sleepers do not split, rot or degrade over time and can resist water, oil, chemicals and fungi.

Designed for over 50 years of use, when they are eventually replaced, they can be reused, repurposed or recycled to make new sleepers or other composite products.

On the recycled sleepers, Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, said: “I am proud to see such a positive innovation being used for the first time on the mainline railway.

“Not only are these sleepers made from locally-sourced plastic waste, they need less maintenance and will last longer, underlining our commitment to create a greener, cleaner and more efficient rail network.”

Network Rail’s Wessex route director, Mark Killick, 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.”

Sicut’s CEO, William Mainwaring, said: “Sicut is delighted to have been selected by Network Rail as its sole supplier of composite railway sleepers and it was a great pleasure to work with the Wessex Route on the Sherrington Viaduct project.  

“Having proven that our products meet the performance required of modern rail track infrastructure, we look forward to working closely with every Network Rail Route and Region to deliver the commercial and environmental savings promised by our technology, while at the same time helping the UK deliver on its commitments on carbon reduction and plastic waste proliferation.”