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$500,000 grant for plastic sleepers project


A Monash University team pioneering an eco-friendly alternative to the millions of railway sleepers across Australia has received a $500,000 research and development grant from the Victorian Government.

Since 2015, Monash Institute of Railway Technology (Monash IRT), along with Victorian company Integrated Recycling, has been exploring the potential for transforming recycled plastics waste – such as shampoo bottles and plastic milk cartons – along with agricultural waste, into long-lasting composite plastic railway sleepers.

The result has been the successful development of Duratrack sleepers, which have replaced timber sleepers in low-speed railway yards and sidings as part of the upgrade of Victorian regional lines including Shepparton, Warrnambool and the Murray Basin. The sleepers have also been widely trialled by tourist and heritage railways, Metro Trains Melbourne, V/Line and Queensland Rail.

The latest Victorian Government investment builds on previous funding of $300,000 provided to Monash IRT and Integrated Recycling for the development of composite plastic railway sleepers in low-speed rail networks.

Monash IRT director, Professor Ravi Ravitharan, said the latest funding would help the Institute to develop the next generation of composite plastic sleepers, this time to be used across Victoria and Australia’s mainline railway networks.

The Institute will work closely with industry partners Integrated Recycling, Advanced Circular Polymers, Pandrol Australia and the ARTC to develop the Australian-first NextGen sleepers, which would be fit for purpose alternative to current concrete sleepers used in mainline railway networks in Victoria and Australia.

Ravitharan said there are 52 million railway sleepers in Australia. Of those, about 32 million are concrete, 11 million timber and 8.7 million steel, with numbers set to increase in light of Victoria’s $90 billion Big Build project.

He said through innovative projects such as the NextGen initiative, railways can play a significant role in meeting Australia’s carbon reduction targets, along with modernising the industry.

“This is another opportunity to change the mindset of the railway industry, which has generally been quite conservative and slow to implement innovative products,” he said.

“It’s also exciting because if you show households that the contents of their recycling bin are being put to good use, they’re much more likely to continue making the effort to recycle.”

Ravitharan said the recycled plastic sleepers offer many benefits.

“These include a lower carbon footprint and a reduction in noise and vibration, which makes for a smoother ride for passengers, and a more peaceful environment for those living near train lines.

Ravitharan said the plastic sleepers have a lifespan of up to 50 years and can be recycled at the end of their life, while a timber sleeper generally lasts only about 20 years.

One kilometre of the plastic sleepers divert more than 100 tonnes of recyclable plastic from landfill, representing a saving of up to $3000 per kilometre in landfill costs. ​