Wiltshire trains are now running on top of old bottles, food packaging and other unwanted plastics.
Engineers have introduced the first composite railway sleepers on Network Rail’s main line tracks, and they are being installed across Sherrington Viaduct, between Salisbury and Warminster.
Composite sleepers are manufactured from a blend of recycled plastics that may otherwise end up in landfill.
Previously, the 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 July 31, creosote-treated softwood sleepers will be banned in the UK.
This change comes after an EU-wide ban of the carcinogenic substance creosote in 2013, with an exemption for railway sleepers until July 31 this year.
Softwood sleepers will no longer be used in the country after that date, but Network Rail says hardwood sleepers – the alternative – are mainly sourced from Brazil and are not sustainable.
Concrete sleepers are still used across most of the network.
New sleepers manufactured by Sicut Ltd will be used, made from a blend of locally-sourced plastic waste.
The recycled composite sleepers aim to help Network Rail achieve its Zero Carbon 2050 target.
It’s believed the change will cause at least a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for at least 50 years.
Composite sleepers also do not split, rot, or degrade over time, unlike traditional wooden sleepers, and can resist water, oil, chemicals and fungi.
Network Rail says they are designed for more than 50 years of use and when they are eventually replaced, they can be re-used or recycled to make new products.
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.”
Minister of State for Transport, 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.”
Sicut’s CEO, William Mainwaring, said: “Sicut is delighted to have been selected by Network Rail as its sole supplier of composite railways 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.”
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