Author: Thomas Lorent

On track to a greener future


Governments and businesses are under pressure to commit to net zero as part of international climate change mitigation initiatives, infrastructure managers and their suppliers are working to improve the sustainability of track technology.

Although rail is one of the most environmentally friendly modes of transport, recent severe weather events and the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have underlined that we need to do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint even further.

Track and infrastructure providers have for some time been seeking ways to improve the sustainability of their products without compromising on quality, efficiency or cost-effectiveness. Pandrol has been addressing the challenge from two angles: making the
track components more sustainably and minimising the impact of their installation and maintenance.

Reducing the environmental impact of track infrastructure and maintenance is not only a contribution to safeguarding the planet, but it also improves working conditions and makes good business sense.

Recycled Materials

Pandrol’s Sustainable Resilient System track fastening products are made from recycled or upcycled tyres and manufactured using energy from renewable sources. Every kilometre of track laid with SRS instead of conventional products saves up to 40 000 tyres from disposal in landfill or by burning. The recycled rubber gives improved stiffness and creep resistance compared to raw microcellular polyurethane or foam alternatives, when tested to the same rigorous performance standards.

Pandrol has recently received Environmental Product Declarations for four products in the SRS range — the Under Ballast Mat, Floating Slab Mat, Under Sleeper Pad and QTrack embedded rail system. Independently verified reports provide transparent environmental data for each product, drawing on a detailed assessment of every aspect of the manufacturing process from raw material supply to final delivery to the customer, in order to establish a typical carbon footprint. The company plans to use this information to benchmark continuous improvement, while railway operators and infrastructure designers can use it to support
environmentally friendly product choices.

All four products are made from at least 90% recycled rubber granules, and will be fully recyclable once they reach the end of their life on the track; they are also largely maintenance free. When the EPD team ran the same scenarios for each product using virgin
polyurethane rather than recycled rubber, the carbon footprint doubled for the floating slab and under ballast mats, and tripled for the under-sleeper pad.

Greener Manufacturing

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our manufacturing plants is another priority. In recent years Pandrol has installed solar panels and harnessed wind energy to power its facilities, as well as using biomass. More than half of all sites are now fed with electricity from renewable sources, and others will follow. As a result, the company’s annual emissions decreased significantly
between 2018 and 2020, from 88 522 to 49 312 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

At the same time, we have prioritised a circular economy, using water sparingly, sorting waste, reusing materials and repairing equipment whenever possible. As an example, our Intercast & Forge iron casting foundry in Australia used 86% recycled raw materials during 2020. Around 49% was scrap metal received from automotive recycling centres and 37% was its own scrap iron recycled on site. The plant now recovers more than 61% of its waste. Scrap iron is reused in production, while the sand left over from the casting process is spread on sandy soils, helping to improve the crop yield on agricultural land.

Going in the right direction

86% recycled raw materials were used at Pandrol’s iron casting foundry in Australia during 2020

Greener Maintenance

As well as reducing the environmental impact of the production process, we are also looking at ways to improve installation and maintenance.

This includes exploring the use of battery-powered tools. While not 100% emissions-free, this significantly reduces emissions at the point of use with no loss of functionality. The equipment is compact, powerful and reliable. It also requires less maintenance, which along with the reduced spending on fuel helps to cut operating expenditure.

The battery-powered equipment is lighter and easier to carry than a petrol or diesel-powered equivalent. The standalone tools can be operated without wires or cables, making them less of a trip hazard than those powered from a generator. But perhaps the most noticeable improvement to working conditions is the lack of fumes. This is not only a positive benefit for the users, but also for lineside residents, which can be a key issue on urban lines overlooked by homes and offices.

Pandrol’s E+ range also includes an emissions-free hydraulic power unit that can be used to power tools in tunnels. This is designed to be compatible with existing hydraulic tools, including grinders, rail saws and weld shears. Hydraulic tools produce less vibration than their self-powered equivalents, and can thus be operated for longer with reduced risk to the user.