With an upgraded, fit-for-purpose rail freight network, TasRail is one of the largest transport service providers in Tasmania, connecting industry and commerce to major shipping ports and freight hubs across the State.
The network is a single line, narrow gauge (1067 millimetre) transport system, which has 613 kilometres of operational track including more than 1.3 million railway sleepers.
While Tasmania is known for its natural beauty, its climate often provides some challenging conditions for TasRail engineers and operational personnel to deal with, such as including wide temperature ranges, high winds and a corrosive environment.
In terms of below rail infrastructure maintenance, TasRail continues to actively look for smarter and more productive ways of ensuring the integrity and safe operation of the network.
The effectiveness of the below rail maintenance strategy continues to improve, with the requirement for unplanned maintenance reducing year on year due to a proactive approach to asset management.
As part of this drive for reduced maintenance and to ensure a more sustainable and environmentally friendly network, TasRail has included composite rail sleepers in its network strategy, allowing it to select sleepers that are best suited to the application and which provide an extended life span with the lowest life cycle cost.
The availability of good quality timber for sleepers is a known major issue and the life span of timber sleepers has dropped considerably over recent years due to the lack of good quality hard wood.
Alternatives had to be considered.
Hybrid polymer sleepers fill this gap as they have similar characteristics to timber but have a 50-year life span. These sleepers are not as rigid as concrete and the load transmitted to the ballast is reduced, creating a very similar track stiffness compared to timber.
TasRail has installed composite sleepers previously, but when this contract expired, it elected to issue a new tender to ensure it had the most suitable product on the market.
In the first quarter of 2021, TasRail issued the tender to local and international suppliers for the supply of sleepers over a three-to-five-year period for maintenance and capital works. It requested full details to ensure offers met the required technical standards, best product costs, supply chain capability, supply reliability as well as details of the sustainability of the product.
Link Asia Pacific, the Australasian regional representative for Lankhorst Engineered Products, worked closely with Lankhorst to provide a comprehensive offer for its KLP range of sleepers to TasRail.
KLP hybrid polymer sleepers are produced in The Netherlands and are today in use on various main lines, bridges and turnouts in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia, Gabon, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand and Russia.
According to Link Asia Pacific technical director Steven Baum, the KLP sleeper is a hybrid polymer sleeper which uses recycled polymers that bond with reinforced steel.
“This clever combination, using the strength and low thermal expansion coefficient of steel, coupled with the dampening characteristics of the polymer, provides a strong but flexible sleeper,” he said.
“The steel provides longitudinal and lateral stiffness to maintain track gauge under all load and climate conditions while the recycled polymer simultaneously acts as an effective impact absorber and sound damper.
“The steel reinforcement is strategically placed and does not interfere with the installation of fastening systems.
“Hybrid sleepers combine the best characteristics of conventional sleepers – the lower bending and compressive rigidity of timber and its more compliant surface hardness along with the consistency and lifespan of concrete.”
Another advantage of the KLP sleepers is that they handle just the same as timber sleepers without the need for any specialised equipment, allowing installation crews to adapt to the new product very quickly.
There is no glass fibre in the polymer as the steel provides the required strength, so no respiratory protection or other PPE is required when working with the sleepers.
Link Asia Pacific business development director Gerhard Klooster said minimising the carbon footprint was part of TasRail’s consideration in the selection process.
“KLP sleepers easily satisfied these requirements as they are made from 100% recycled polymers and are fully recyclable again after their long life. The used polymer is sourced by a subsidiary company of Lankhorst to ensure raw material quality is maintained,” he said.
More information on KLP sleeper solutions is available at www.linkap.com.au.
Sample sleepers will be displayed at the AusRAIL PLUS conference in Sydney, 28 February-2 March next year.