Network Rail regulation and performance

24.07.07

Network Rail-probably the UK’s largest reuser of waste tyres, thanks to HoldFast

One of Network Rail’s least well known environmental achievements is that, without any UK or EC subsidies or grants, it is probably the UK’s largest reuser of waste rubber tyres, thanks to its innovative supplier HoldFast Level Crossings.


In 2006, over two million of the UK’s waste tyres were transformed into a range of rail crossing platforms and new safety measures by HoldFast, making it a record year in their history.

The EU landfill directive has now banned the disposal of whole, part and shredded tyres to landfill. This has resulted in significant stockpiling and there is now a real pressure for government to encourage industry to exploit new applications to recover & reuse the waste. In the absence of other large scale commercially viable recycling solutions similar to the HoldFast / Network Rail arrangement, most tyres are incinerated.

HoldFast had enabled Network Rail to make a significant contribution to reducing land contamination. Now no longer an option for dealing with this waste, its use of waste tyres is reducing incineration which affects global warming and ozone depletion and is being actively discouraged by government through its agency, WRAP.

In 2006, HoldFast’s used tyre consumption was over 400% greater than that achieved in 2001, for which they received The Railtrack Environment Award.
The HoldFast system holds UK and overseas accreditation for manufacturing and safety standards including Line Specification RT/CE/S/040; Certificate of Acceptance PA05/047; BS5750 and ISO9002. This is confirmed by the company’s close collaboration with Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate and The Highways Authority.

In 2006, over 200,000 waste rubber tyres were reused on the railways in HoldFast’s new product, The HoldFast Anti-Trespass Guard. This is the world’s first and only trespass guard made of recycled rubber and is replacing wooden structures placed beside level crossings to deter trespassers across the country. It will last indefinitely, providing a longer maintenance free and sustainable solution in addition to improving level crossing safety.

HoldFast source vast quantities of ground scrap tyre rubber (GTR) which the manufacturing plant turns in to highly durable solid panels with exceptional anti- skid levels.

The panels are made of 100% reused rubber bound together at ambient temperatures using a moisture-curing urethane binder. The advantages of many recycling processes are offset by the exceptionally high energy levels required to convert the materials. In this case, the energy use is minimal. Mixing the rubber granules with the liquid binder and the curing process only takes minutes without any heat requirements.

This represents a fraction of the energy use required for manufacturing virgin rubber or, indeed, concrete. The generous depth of rubber and weight of each panel creates an exceptional resilience to the forces of road traffic they must sustain that would simply be prohibitively expensive if manufactured from virgin rubber.

In contracts, concrete crossing manufacture suffers from one of the most energy intensive of all industrial manufacturing processes. Including direct fuel use for mining and transporting raw materials, cement production takes about six million Btus for every ton of cement. The industry’s heavy reliance on coal leads to especially high emission levels of CO2, nitrous oxide and sulphur, among other pollutants.


It is an unfortunate fact that road and rail closures for level crossing replacement and maintenance cause severe disruption to road and rail traffic.

Traditionally, level crossing replacement has required road and rail closure of one to two days in order to lay the bed, set concrete or asphalt, introduce heavy plant etc. Financial cost apart, closures have a considerable local environmental impact. Problems include congestion; traffic fumes; noise pollution; extended rail and road journeys with increased fuel consumption and pollution levels.

The HoldFast system, effectively comprising a series of rubber ‘domino’ panels, simply drops in to place. A 50 metre crossing can be installed in three hours with minimal plant. HoldFast continue to reduce the installation time required to reduce still further the impact of crossing replacement on the local environment. 2006 saw the widespread use of their new lifting pin system which enables panels to be lifted and placed in situ within minutes.

In 2006 HoldFast also introduced a management system to enable complete crossings to be delivered and offloaded direct from manufacturing plant to the installation site on the day (or night) of installation and to the nearest hour. This reduces fuel and road freight requirements. With every crossing designed at the plant, there is no wastage at site.

Furthermore, once a HoldFast system is installed, the crossing lifespan should exceed 20 years in the busiest locations. Such a lifespan is not possible with traditional materials, including concrete and asphalt. There are very few joints to a HoldFast crossing and, as joints present a structural weakness in any platform, this helps ensure strength and durability. An additional benefit is that because the panels are solid rubber, the platforms cannot cause track circuitry failure that has been a problem with steel encased crossing platforms.

It should also be noted that the acoustic damping qualities of the rubber considerably reduces extraneous wheel to rail noise, benefiting the local environment and community.

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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