Decarbonisation, Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand), Environment and Sustainability, Track Construction, Industry Infrastructure, Passenger Rail, Plant and Equipment, Sustainability, Rail Express features, Recycling

Unipart helps remove the embodied carbon

unipart recycle

Unipart and Sicut are helping recycle plastic waste into track sleepers, improving the sustainability of Australia’s rail infrastructure.


Railways across the world are already placing significant emphasis on reducing their emissions and are embracing the circular economy through comprehensive and challenging environmental and sustainability strategies.

While historically the primary focus has been on traction, with significant investments in electrification and more recently battery technologies and hydrogen fuel cells, there is now increased focus on the infrastructure itself.

As Unipart Group Australia Managing Director Mark Carling says, it has become abundantly clear that if they are to meet their targets, railways must reduce the embodied carbon within their track infrastructure, over the full course of its operational life.

“We need to embrace circular economy principles and emerging technologies and make greater use of recycled materials, particularly plastics, when making design and procurement decisions,” Carling said.

Based on models of track-embodied carbon, rail, sleepers and reducing maintenance and renewal interventions are obvious targets. Initiatives such as the ‘greening’ of rail steel production delivering longer life with lower carbon rails, and the use of under sleeper pads with concrete sleepers to mitigate ballast attrition and reduce the need for ballast maintenance and replacement during the asset lifetime, are all gaining momentum.

Railway sleepers, representing nearly 30 per cent of the embodied carbon in the track, also need significant attention, especially when they can require regular track maintenance interventions and several replacements during an asset lifetime.

“The continued use of hardwood timber, often with toxic creosote treatment, is also contrary to the Australian Prime Minister’s commitments, made at COP26 alongside more than 120 world leaders, to reverse deforestation and their replacement with high embodied carbon concrete is certainly not the best answer,” Carling said.

“A low embodied carbon composite railway sleeper made from recycled plastic and that is recyclable within a fully circular economy model, would be an obvious solution, and a great win.

“However, in a safety critical application within the infrastructure, safe and reliable performance is critical and there have been several false starts and notable failures, both in Australia and internationally, with polymer composite sleepers.”

Carling said that fortunately, one composite sleeper, Sicut, produced by Sicut Enterprises, is now proven to deliver the full wish list of performance, quality, value, and the environment.

According to Sicut chief executive officer William Mainwaring, the sleepers are made from a unique blend of recycled plastics, reinforced with glass fibre, and deliver outstanding performance over a very long service life, maintenance-free.

Sicut has become the dominant market leader in Europe and indeed the sole supplier of composite sleepers to major national railroads such as Network Rail in the UK and Deutsche Bahn in Germany.

It is now establishing itself in a similar way in North America and other regions and has plans for a new plant in Australia.

“Sicut sleepers and bearers are manufactured almost entirely from recycled post-consumer and post-industrial plastics, reinforced by glass fibre, in state-of-the-art facilities in the UK and the US,” Mainwaring said.

“Sicut sleepers have been proven for use across track categories from heavy haul Class 1 freight in the USA to very high usage urban mass transit networks in Europe. Indeed, Sicut has installations in over 20 countries around the world, from the heat of the desert in the Middle East to the freezing cold in Scandinavia.

“Sicut’s independently verified Environmental Product Declarations evidence significant embodied carbon reductions, when compared to all alternative sleeper types; a reduction enhanced several times over by further evidence of very long Sicut sleeper service lives.

“Its use of recycled material and demonstrable and simple recyclability highlights its circularity, but due to its long design life, it supports a circular economy for waste plastics measured in decades and not weeks.

“Sicut sleepers and bearers not only deliver carbon reduction, circularity and an ideal use for recycled plastics, but they also deliver significant value to the railroads through greatly reduced maintenance and renewal interventions.”

In Australia and New Zealand, Sicut sleepers and bearers are available through Unipart Rail, as a part of the company’s broader infrastructure-related product range, which also includes electrical and mechanical product supply solutions and innovative rail handling equipment.

“The Sicut composite sleepers and bearers fit our infrastructure range perfectly,” Carling said.

“Unipart excels at bringing innovative solutions to the market, and the Sicut product range is a truly game-changing sustainability innovation. It is more versatile and far longer lasting than timber and performs as well as concrete and much better than other composites available. Sicut is infinitely more sustainable than the traditional timber and concrete solutions”.

Unipart Rail Australia composite sleepers general manager Anthony Sacca said that the company valued the strong relationship it had with the team at Sicut.

“We’re looking forward to bringing the best capabilities of the two organisations together as more and more Australian and New Zealand customers use Sicut in their networks,” he said.

For more information: anthony.sacca@unipart.com or
visit:  https://unipart.com.au/rail-construction-and-maintenance/