Railway sleepers made from recycled plastic installed at Richmond Train Station

Published: 25 June 2019

The sleepers will last three times longer than traditional railway sleepers and are made from recycled plastic sourced in Australia, including vineyard covers and cotton bale wraps.

In a first for Victoria’s public transport system, trains travelling through Richmond are now running on railway sleepers made from recycled plastic.

190 of the sleepers were installed at Richmond Train Station as part of maintenance work done by Metro Trains over the weekend of 22–23 June.

It is the first time the metropolitan train network has used the innovative sleepers, which are comprised of 85% recycled plastic waste.

The sleepers have already been installed with great success at a handful of different tourist and heritage railways in Victoria including Puffing Billy, Walhalla and Castlemaine.

The installation at Richmond is part of a trial being conducted with Metro Trains. If the trial is successful the sleepers could potentially be rolled out across the metropolitan train network as part of future rail upgrades.

The Duratrack composite plastic sleepers are produced in Mildura by Integrated Recycling and contain a mix of polystyrene and agricultural plastic waste, including cotton bale wrap, vineyard covers and pipe from the mining industry, which was previously unable to be recycled and sent to landfill. All the recycled plastic used in the sleepers is sourced in Australia.

The sleepers require far less maintenance and have a lifespan of up to 50 years – three times longer than traditional timber sleepers. At the end of their lifetime the sleepers will be recycled into new sleepers, fulfilling the promise of a truly circular economy.

The environmental benefits of using the sleepers are clear as they reduce the need for timber resources, reduce concrete production (the second-largest carbon emitter in the world) and meaningfully recycle plastic waste.

Compared to concrete, timber or steel sleepers, the sleepers also require less energy and resources to manufacture, thereby producing significantly less greenhouse gases.

For every kilometre of track installed with the sleepers, 64 tonnes of plastic waste that would have otherwise gone to landfill is recycled.

The ground-breaking railway sleepers are the result of nearly four years of research and product development led by Integrated Recycling and Monash Institute of Railway Technology – and supported by Sustainability Victoria through two Research, Development and Demonstration grants and a Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund grant totalling $630,000.

Integrated Recycling are also trialing the sleepers with V-Line, with installation planned for July 2019.

The project is a great example of government, industry, universities and rail authorities working together to create a circular economy through innovation – and by rethinking the way we approach everyday products.

The recycled plastic sleepers run alongside platform two at Richmond station, for anyone curious to see them in action (from behind the yellow line, of course).

We’re on the way to a future where commuters look through a train window and see recycled plastic sleepers flashing by instead of concrete or wood.

And that's something to smile about.

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