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

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - NEOBALLAST (New high-performant and long-lasting ballast for sustainable railway infrastructures)

Reporting period: 2018-06-01 to 2019-11-30

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.

All the above objectives have been successfully achieved:
- The prototype has been designed and manufactured, producing 250 tones of Neoballast.
- The demonstration of Neoballast has been carried out in a open-to-traffic line near Barcelona.
- The Newco to commercialise Neoballast has been incorporated. The commercialisation of Neoballast is foreseen by the end of 2020, once the definitive technology is designed, manufactured and tested.
During the whole project, work has been successfully delivered in the five work packages (WP).

Regarding the Project Management (WP1), it should be said that the communication and collaboration among partners has been very fruitful and essential to deliver the good results of the project. Seven consortium meetings have been held. In addition, many parallel meetings and teleconferences have taken place among the different partners to solve questions and update on the project progress. The consortium has also actively managed IPR, as detailed in deliverable D1.3.

With regard to the development of the technology production of Neoballast (WP2), after many efforts to overcome the high complexity of such an industrial plant, the project consortium has managed to deliver a working prototype capable to produce the needed amount of Neoballst to be tested in real conditions. The design, manufacture, assembly, commissioning and production of Neoballast are detailed in deliverable D2.1. The new design for the definitive technology can be found in deliverable D2.2.

Regarding the demonstration of Neoballast in real conditions (WP3), a field test with Neoballast has been constructed and monitored in a convenitonal line with mixed traffic belonging to ADIF between Caldes de Malavella and Maççanet, 75 km from Barcelona. A control section with conventional ballast has also been monitored. The results obtained are:
- The effect of the Neoballast is on average a reduction in overall noise level of about 0.6 dB.
- The overall vibration reduction for Neoballast in comparison with conventional ballast is between 5 and 10 dB.
- Track settlement shows an initial important settlement of the Neoballast section, which was expected based on laboratory tests. After this initial settlement, the rate of track settlement decreases.
- No final conclusions can be drawn from the total pressure measurements in the given monitoring timeframe. It is the ambition to continue monitoring after the project to assess the behaviour over a longer period.
- Life cycle costs can be reduced by 20%
- The Life Cycle Assessment shows that the global warming potential can be reduced up to 50%.

With regard to the exploitation and commercialisation (WP4), the society Neoballast S.L. has been incorporated in July 2019 by COMSA and MAPEI, with the goal to commercialise Neoballast in the short term, once the definitive technology is up and running.

Finally, in what refers to dissemination and communication (WP5), numerous dissemination activities have taken place from the very beginning of the project:
- Attendance to two fairs: ExpoFerroviaria 17 (Milan) and ExpoRail2019 (Mexico)
- Attendance to conferences and workshops
- Organisation of an specific workshop on Neoballast in Barcelona at the end of the project, where the preliminary results of the monitoring of the Neoballast field test section were presented and a visit to the field test was organised.
- Publication of a project website
- Publication of three newsletters
- Printing of brochures in English, Italian and Spanish languages
- Publication of three articles in well-known journals
- Press releases on the media
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%. 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.

Indeed, 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%.

Finally, noise and vibration (N&V) problems are widespread across Europe, becoming a major political issue. AS explained above, Neoballast enables noise and vibration 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.