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Catching up with Greenrail: Smart sleeper technology promises a railway revolution

Our special feature last May (2018) was on innovative EU-funded projects working to upgrade Europe’s railway network for the 21st century. As part of that special feature, we spoke to Giovanni De Lisi from Greenrail SRL, an Italian SME that has patented its tailor-made sustainable sleeper technology in 80 countries. We catch up with him to find out more about how their ambitious targets for further expansion have gone over the last year.


Life after...

© Greenrail Group

Railway sleepers have traditionally been made of wood or, as is more common in the modern age, concrete. However, they haven’t changed much since the 19th century and they’re a major source of noise and vibrations felt by the train traveller. They also require expensive maintenance, so finding a new solution is a crucial element of modernising European railways. Greenrail (sustainability, safety and saving in the railroad sleeper of tomorrow) found the solution – an inner core made of pre-stressed concrete and an outer layer made of a mixture of recycled plastic and rubber, with the additional integration of various sensors and the ability to produce electricity or collect solar energy.

Negotiations continue

In our previous interview, we were told that Greenrail were in extensive talks with entities around the world about their adoption of the new railway sleepers. Mr De Lisi remains optimistic and, if we can say, rather coy about the progress of those discussions. “In the past few months we’ve focused our attention on finishing the R&D, the testing and certification phase for our sleepers and the conclusion of the SME Instrument Phase 2 project,” he tells us. “But at the same time, we’re still in talks with numerous entities, including European ones.”

However, railway infrastructure is a very specific industry in which negotiations can take a considerable amount of time. “This is why we’re engaging with a few potential clients simultaneously and we are sure that most of them will be concluded successfully in the near future,” he adds.

In part, the advanced negotiations with these potentially interested clients in adopting the Greenrail solution is one of the reasons Greenrail have not gone for Phase 3 funding. “We’ve also focused all of our attention on the industrialisation of the technology – but we certainly don’t exclude the possibility of going for Phase 3 in future,” De Lisi says.

A successful installation in Emilia Romagna

Amongst the many successes and highlights of the past year for Greenrail was Greenrail’s presentation of the first smart railway tracks in Italy, in the Emilia Romagna region. “Here we showcased not only the Greenrail basic sleeper but also our smart sleepers – Solar, LinkBox and Piezo,” explains De Lisi. “They’ve been installed on Ferrovie Emilia Romagna’s (FER) track and have undergone various field tests that I’m happy to say proved their ability to significantly reduce noise and vibration levels, as well as show their capacity to harvest solar energy.” The sleepers’ predictive maintenance and real-time diagnosis data was also a big success.

Even as it seems that they’re seemingly on the verge of a major market breakthrough, Mr De Lisi admits that EU funding was certainly a milestone in the company’s development. “Thanks to the SME Instrument, we completed the final designing, production and testing phases of our sleepers and increased our international recognition, and now we feel we’re truly ready to enter the market.”