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New high-performant and long-lasting ballast for sustainable railway infrastructures

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - NEOBALLAST (New high-performant and long-lasting ballast for sustainable railway infrastructures)

Reporting period: 2016-06-01 to 2017-05-31

Ballast is a crucial element of the track superstructure and is the responsible of the track geometry. However, along the time, the progressive deterioration of ballast leads to a descent of track quality, resulting in contamination of the ballast layer with fine particles and rounding of the aggregate to the point in which ballast cleaning or track renewal is required. Since ballast cleaning is an intrusive and costly operation, Infrastructure Managers often decide to renew the whole track superstructure even though the rest of materials (rails, sleepers, etc.) have not reached the end of their service lives.

Neoballast emerges as an innovative, sustainable and cost-efficient solution to ballast that not only addresses the above mentioned problems, but will improve the economic and environmental performance of European railway tracks bringing important socio-economic benefits to the whole society. The main goal is to improve the ballast durability and reduce the maintenance required. The aggregates will be coated by a bespoke binder and recycled rubber coming from end of life vehicles tyres, hence contributing to the circular flow of materials, and could double not only the lifespan of the ballast layer, but the overall track service life. Moreover, Neoballast has also been designed to overcome one of the most important and widespread environmental problems in Europe: Noise and Vibrations. Their elasticity could dissipate energy and significantly reduce the noise and the vibrations produced by the railway infrastructure.

The main objectives of the project are:
- Firstly, the development and validation of a prototype that maximizes the energy- and resource-efficiency for the industrial production of Neoballast.
- Secondly, the demonstration and assessment of the product in real conditions, which will be performed in two field test locations in Europe.
- Finally, the commercialisation of Neoballast through a new constituted company, which is the ultimate goal of the project.
To achieve this ultimate goal, dissemination and communication will be done throughout the project, focusing on involving Infrastructure Managers, railway contractors and all the stakeholders to maximise the replicability.
During the first year of the project, work has been carried out in all the five work packages (WP).

Regarding the Project Management (WP1), two general meetings have been held: one at COMSA headquarters in Barcelona at the beginning of the project and one at MAPEI headquarters in Milan after the first six months. In addition, several parallel meetings and teleconferences have taken place among the different partners to solve questions and update on the project progress. In general, the communication and collaboration among partners is being very succesfull.

With regard to the development of the technology production of Neoballast (WP2), several tests have been done to design and optimise the prototype that will be able to produce Neoballast at an industrial scale. The environmental conditions such as humidity and temperature have been considered and analysed, as they affect the behaviour of the binder covering the ballast stone. Other tests have been done to optimise the centrifuge process, the curing time needed for the binder and other aspects related to the design of the prototype. It is expected to have the prototype constructed soon.

In order to demonstrate and evaluate Neoballast in real conditions (WP3), preliminary tests have been carried out at the University of Granada. These tests were required by ADIF, the Spanish Infrastructure Manager, prior to introducing Neoballast to their network. According to the results obtained, Neoballast not only fulfills all the requirements, but it has proved many improvements with respect conventional ballast: stiffness reduction, more energy dissipated, settlement reduction and lower stresses under the ballast layer. In parallel, search of possible locations for the implementation of Neoballast is taking place.

Work regarding exploitation and commercialisation (WP4) until now has been focused on defining the Business Model and a preliminary Business Plan and Profit and Loss calculations for the New company (Newco) to be constituted. It has been considered that the Newco would be better providing a service rather than selling Neoballast itself, as the potential customers would be the quarries, and not the final users (construction companies). In turn, Neoballast should be prescribed by Infrastructure Managers so that it can be used as ballast.

Finally, in what refers to dissemination and communication (WP5), numerous dissemination activities have taken place from the very beginning of the project. The first information published related to the project was a press release notifying the beginning of the activities related to the FTI project, on June 2016. Moreover, a website was developed (www.neoballast.eu) in English and Spanish. The technical characteristics of the product were explained in specialized and prestigious magazines (“NEOBALLAST: Seeking the ballast of the future” in Via Libre Técnica on December 2016) and a lot of fairs and technical events are planned (X International Conference on High Speed Railway held in Córdoba, VTM 2017 in Paris).
Neoballast is conceived to tackle the root cause of maintenance: track degradation caused by the progressive deterioration of ballast. Due to the enhanced properties of Neoballast aggregates, the lifespan of the ballast layer can be doubled, leading to improvements of overall track service life up to 100% and reducing maintenance needs about 30-35%. As explained in detail in section 2.1.5 Neoballast could lead to potential savings for the European railways ranging from €7,400M to €9,350M. Increasing affordability of rail infrastructures is vital to increase rail competitiveness and attractiveness required to face fierce competition from the road sector.

Although transport accounts for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, rail is responsible for significantly less than 1% of transport’s total share. As a result, the rail mode plays a key role in improving overall transport sustainability. However, there are still two important challenges to be faced: resource efficiency and N&V issues.

The maintenance and renewal of existing railway tracks requires every year about 21M tons of new ballast, whilst around 15M tons of end-of-use ballast is generated. Due to the enhanced durability of the Neoballast aggregates and the possibility to recycle old ballast as raw material for new aggregates of Neoballast, the need of natural aggregates could be reduced up to 70%. This could derive in savings of 113,400 tons of CO2, contributing to Europe’s decarbonisation.

Finally, noise and vibration (N&V) problems are widespread across Europe, becoming a major political issue. Neoballast enables 6-10dBa noise reduction and 10dBv reduction of vibration levels, which could lead to significant savings in N&V mitigation measures. Finally, the incorporation of recycled rubber in the coating will have a beneficial impact on the environment and will contribute to the establishment of a real circular economy.
Neoballast aggregates and its components