Giving our tracks a second life
Short Line manages over 120 industrial spur lines in the Netherlands, such as tracks on company premises. These tracks require maintenance and at times renewal, but the process involved is far different from that used for the main tracks. Project Manager Steffen Horvers explains.
In the Netherlands there are hundreds of branches to industrial spur lines. Freight trains branch off to a company site, for example, to deliver raw materials or to pick up end-products. In contrast to the main tracks, these industrial spur lines are not managed by ProRail. Instead they are managed by Short Line, a Strukton Rail subsidiary. You could say that we are the ProRail of industrial tracks. We manage, maintain and renew these tracks.
We do this for more than 120 customers. These customers have a short segment of track located in ‘their garden’ that is essential to their business process. When the track unexpectedly becomes inoperable, this endangers their business process. Naturally we have a breakdown service, but just like the ordinary tracks, we prefer to prevent any malfunctions. This is why we conduct annual inspections to determine where the track shows wear and tear, and when components are due for replacement. This enables us to identify anticipated costs over a five-year period in advance. Very useful from a budget management perspective.
One hundred percent safe
A major difference with the main tracks is that we almost never use new parts to replace rails, sleepers, ballast or other components. All of the material comes from the main tracks and is given a second life in an industrial spur line. You may think, so that’s where the rejects go, but you would be wrong. That’s because ProRail’s requirements are of such severity that their materials are replaced much faster. A sleeper that, due to the number of years it has been in place, is removed from the main tracks still has a twenty to thirty-year service life in an industrial spur line. One hundred percent safe.
Although not yet everyone at Strukton knows of our existence, we maintain short lines with our colleagues at Strukton Rail Projects. When they undertake a renovation project, we can acquire the ‘old’ materials at a competitive market price. This transaction often is processed by the Purchasing department. For example, recently we were able to acquire a large batch of track-related materials after a renovation was completed in the Province of Groningen. Sometimes we receive a direct offer. For example, a colleague, who was going to remove an almost new expansion device, recently called me up asking me if I was interested. I certainly was, because this is something very specific and doesn’t often come up for grabs.
We are able to identify the anticipated costs over a five-year period in advance. Very useful from a budget management perspective
Significantly high stock levels
This expansion device, just like many other specific materials, such as tongue rails and rail frogs, is now stored in our depot near the village of Lage Zwaluwe in the Province of Noord-Brabant. Of course the depot also contains many straightforward materials: lengths of different types of rail, hundreds of sleepers and various switches. We therefore always have significant stocks on hand, which enables us to reasonably freely plan our work. The emphasis here is on ‘reasonably’, because often we are dependent on the customer’s plans. Many customers prefer to have the railway work done all at once instead of spread out over the year. They then schedule an unloading/loading halt, so that we can do our work. I also try to take Strukton Rail Projects’ plans into account. This is because I make use of colleagues in that department to carry out the work. Short Line is the manager and coordinator, but not necessarily the executing party.
“All of the materials come from the main tracks and are given a second life in an industrial spur line.”
Areas for potential greening
The over 120 industrial spur lines comprise approximately 550 kilometres of track and 647 switches. Every year we carry out a great deal of maintenance on the switches and we renew two kilometres of track. The process we follow for this also differs from that used by Strukton Rail Projects. They work on kilometres at a stretch, while we produce custom work. It is craftsmanship and sometimes requires a bit of puzzling; you have to figure what’s possible precisely because you are making use of reused materials. The dimension of these materials is not always known. I like that, this old-fashioned way of railway building.
For me and my immediate Short Line colleagues this approach is entirely normal, but put in a proper perspective, giving tracks a second life is also very sustainable. I am seeing that customers also like it. Furthermore, it saves on costs and that’s another great benefit.
Although we take a sustainable approach to our work, there is always room for improvement. For example, right now our machinery is still diesel fuelled. While it’s sustainable biofuel, it’s still diesel. The migration to electric machines would result in a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. Further gains may also be possible in railway materials. From what I know, trials are currently underway with sleepers made of reused plastic. These could last as much as sixty years and would be virtually maintenance-free.