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Disruptive process for the construction of railway transition zones, reducing drastically construction and maintenance costs

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Wonder wedges for smoother, cheaper train tracks

A Spanish infrastructure company on EU project DIGITALIA 2 has developed a component for railway lines that cuts construction and maintenance costs.

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An infrastructure company based on the eastern coast of Spain has developed a component for railway lines that considerably cuts installation and maintenance costs and makes for smoother journeys for passengers. Thanks to the DIGITALIA 2 project, TORRESCAMARA is now offering its concrete transition wedges in tenders to build and maintain high-speed and conventional rail tracks in its home country and abroad. “Tenders of tens of millions of euros are awarded for differences between the offers even below 1 %, so having tools that make the company more competitive is essential,” said Mr José Luis Pérez, technical coordinator of DIGITALIA 2. The wedges are components that can be installed on sections of railway where a train crosses from an embankment area to a bridge, tunnel or viaduct, causing an abrupt change in the dynamic loads. Without a wedge, the track would be damaged by the train moving between the different sections. Traditional ‘transition wedges’, as they are called, use granular materials often treated with cement, and although they can be chosen from several catalogue types, in some cases they take months to produce and install. “Granular materials have specific requirements that often make the solution expensive and environmentally inadequate,” said Pérez. “The quality of the solution, due to the variability of the materials, is difficult to control.” By contrast, the new wedges, first developed in the project DIGITALIA and refined in DIGITALIA 2, are simple prefabricated concrete components, which can be produced by any manufacturer and standardised for the area needed. “Installation only takes a few hours and allows maintenance costs in those areas to be reduced drastically,” said Pérez. Maintenance dream Cutting costs in transition zones is particularly attractive for railway operators, since they currently represent 10 % of EU spending on maintenance despite only accounting for 2.8 % of the track’s length, a cost of EUR 471 million a year. TORRESCAMARA estimates construction managers could save up to 2 % in construction costs and 10 % in the maintenance costs of railway lines. The project continued the research and development begun in the earlier project DIGITALIA: improving the design of the wedges through creating new software and demonstrating their performance to railway operators, construction companies and railway engineers. The developers hope that, ultimately, the wedges will be included in the specifications of railway infrastructure owners and say that they would consider licensing the solution to other manufacturers. TORRESCAMARA’s business plan is to offer the wedges when it bids for concessions to design, build or operate lines in order to help it enter new markets. Its existing projects include two stretches of high-speed rail line in Spain, from Madrid to Galicia, and from Valladolid to Burgos, and the Madinah Depot on the Haramain high-speed railway in Saudi Arabia. It has also participated in tenders for concessions in Peru, Colombia and Uruguay. If its wedges are included in international specifications or it wins its first major contract to install them on a railway line, attracting operators from abroad would boost TORRESCAMARA revenues by an estimated EUR 20-25 million a year. The EU funding has helped it prepare to tap a growing transport infrastructure market, worth EUR 838 billion in investment in 2014 and set to reach EUR 1 395 billion by 2025, according to a research report from Oxford Economics and PwC. Rail transport is seen increasing by more than 60 %.


DIGITALIA 2, transition wedges, transport infrastructure, rail tracks, concessions

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