Monash Uni Aims to Make Train Travel Greener

Monash University

A Monash University team pioneering an eco-friendly alternative to the millions of railway sleepers across Australia has had another boost, receiving a $500,000 research and development grant from the Victorian Government through Sustainability Victoria and the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority through the ecologiQ program.

Since 2015, Monash Institute of Railway Technology (Monash IRT), along with Victorian company Integrated Recycling, has been exploring the potential for transforming recycled plastics waste – such as shampoo bottles and plastic milk cartons – along with agricultural waste, into long-lasting composite plastic railway sleepers.

The result has been the successful development of Duratrack® sleepers, which have replaced timber sleepers in low-speed railway yards and sidings as part of the upgrade of Victorian regional lines including Shepparton, Warrnambool and the Murray Basin. The sleepers have also been widely trialled by tourist and heritage railways, Metro Trains Melbourne, V/Line and Queensland Rail.

The latest Victorian Government investment builds on previous funding of $300,000 provided to Monash IRT and Integrated Recycling for the development of composite plastic railway sleepers in low-speed rail networks.

Monash IRT Director Professor Ravi Ravitharan said the latest funding will help the Institute to develop the next generation of composite plastic sleepers, this time to be used across Victoria and Australia’s mainline railway networks.

The Institute will work closely with industry partners Integrated Recycling, Advanced Circular Polymers, Pandrol Australia and ARTC to develop the Australian-first NextGen sleepers, which would be fit for purpose alternative to current concrete sleepers used in mainline railway networks in Victoria and Australia.

Professor Ravitharan said there are 52 million railway sleepers in Australia. Of those, about 32 million are concrete, 11 million timber and 8.7 million steel, with numbers set to increase in light of Victoria’s $90 billion Big Build project.

He said through innovative projects such as the NextGen initiative, railways can play a significant role in meeting Australia’s carbon reduction targets, along with modernising the industry.

“This is another opportunity to change the mindset of the railway industry, which has generally been quite conservative and slow to implement innovative products,” Professor Ravitharan said.

“It’s also exciting because if you show households that the contents of their recycling bin are being put to good use, they’re much more likely to continue making the effort to recycle.”

Professor Ravitharan said the recycled plastic sleepers offer many benefits.

“These include a lower carbon footprint and a reduction in noise and vibration, which makes for a smoother ride for passengers, and a more peaceful environment for those living near train lines.

Professor Ravitharan said the plastic sleepers have a lifespan of up to 50 years and can be recycled at the end of their life, while a timber sleeper generally lasts only about 20 years.

One kilometre of the plastic sleepers divert more than 100 tonnes of recyclable plastic from landfill, representing a saving of up to $3,000 per kilometre in landfill costs. ​

About Monash Institute of Railway Technology

Monash Institute of Railway Technology is the premier track and vehicle railway research centre in Australia, and is internationally recognised for excellence in railway research.

It evolved from BHP’s Melbourne Research Laboratories, and has been advancing the railway industry through technology for over 50 years.

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