Has there been any development of producing the railway specific materials to reduce the footprint? Yes, there has. Materials such as the tracks and railway sleepers, may be re-used by moving them from the primary location into a new one. Usually this means moving them into railways with lower traffic volumes, giving the materials a second life. This applies to many other railway specific materials too. Additionally, the materials are rarely produced of virgin raw materials only. Iron is recycled very effectively, and many concrete producers use cement where limestone is partially replaced by slag or ash. The railway specific materials do circulate rather effectively, but there is one exception: the railway ballast. The ballast often ends up in its life cycle to replace e.g. excavated soils or aggregates in earth construction, not fully utilizing the high-quality properties of the ballast. But it doesn’t end up in landfill either.
According to our studies, the production of railway specific materials, when constructing 1 km of single-track railway, causes 237 tons of CO2 as shown in the picture below. Constructing and maintaining railways is heavy duty when it comes to climate impact, but it has large handprint as well, since it enables low carbon transport of the end user. On the other hand, the potential of railways and the materials is not fully utilised yet. Circulating the railway specific materials more effectively may provide raw materials for some other construction product manufacturers, as buildings as material banks-model, BAMB, describes. Increasing the circulation of all material consumption is the key to mitigating the climate change. We are on the right track, but the journey has just begun.