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Infrabel installs Europe's first 'green' sleepers on Belgian railways

The production and placement of green railway sleepers by Infrabel, in Puurs, Saturday 06 March 2021. (BELGA PHOTO TIJS VANDERSTAPPEN)
07:18 08/03/2021

Rail management company Infrabel has officially inaugurated the first "green" sleepers used on railway tracks in Europe

In the new process of production, the cement the sleepers are traditionally made from has been replaced by sulphur. "It is an innovation in the railway world, but above all a small revolution for the environment,” the company said in a statement. “Infrabel becomes the first rail infrastructure manager in Europe to make the sleepers more environmentally friendly across its network."

The first sleepers produced, and placed this Saturday between Puurs and Antwerp, are of a greenish hue and not grey which usually comes with the use of concrete. The sulphur in the sleepers – the bridge between tracks which gives them their foundation and solidly ties them together - replaces the concrete as a binder, offering many ‘green’ benefits.

"Cement production emits a lot of carbon dioxide,” Infrabel continued in its statement. “Firstly, because of the nature of the chemical reaction of turning limestone into cement; secondly because this process is very energy-intensive, requiring a temperature of 1,400 degrees Celsius."

"With sulphur concrete, a temperature of 140 degrees is enough to shape the sleepers. As a result, carbon dioxide production is greatly reduced, by about 40%, from 75kg of CO2/per sleeper to 45kg of CO2. Another positive point: the new material created is totally recyclable.”

At the end of their life or if they become damaged, sulphur concrete sleepers may be recast to form new parts. Finally, according to the state-owned company, the process creates a use for the sulphur which is a waste product of the oil industry.

"The train is the most environmentally friendly mode of transport,” said Georges Gilkinet, federal mobility minister. “But it can be made even more environmentally friendly, with advances such as these green sleepers, made of ‘sulphur concrete.’ This is a first in Belgium and Europe, something of which we can be proud. It is indeed a small ecological revolution for our railways."

These sulphur concrete ties will be mass-produced, starting in August 2021, at a rate of 25,000 pieces per year for eight years at a site in Baudour, in the Mons region.

Written by Nick Amies