Network Rail recycling centre helps cut cost of Britain’s Railways

Network Rail’s new national track materials recycling centre (NTMRC) covers 40ha of formerly derelict railway land at Whitemoor Yard in March, Cambridgeshire. The centre – whose foundations were constructed using more than 125,000 tonnes of recycled railway ballast – will handle more than 40% of Britain’s used track materials annually, creating reusable products for the rail and construction industries.

Over 500 miles of used rail, 800 switches and crossings and 50,000 tonnes of contaminated ballast will be processed at Whitemoor each year. Recycling just the ballast will remove more than 2,500 lorry journeys from our roads and save Network Rail around £5m in landfill tax each year.

Martin Elwood, director of Network Rail NDS, said: “The new national recycling centre is at the heart of our efforts to drive down the cost of Britain’s railways and make the industry more sustainable. Rail travel is the greenest form of public transport so Network Rail must take the lead in making our industry greener still.

“Our work to maintain, renew and enhance the railway means we have to deal responsibly with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste every year. Our facility at Whitemoor Yard will play a massive role in minimising both the financial and environmental impact of this waste, creating new products which can be used on the railway or sold on at a profit.”

Principal contractor for the project was multi-disciplinary company, Spencer. Their project manager, Neil Hewitt, said: “Not only are we proud to have been involved in a scheme with such ambition – we are proud to have delivered it on budget and on time. Much of the work was carried out during a period impacted by heavy rains and a very difficult winter. Nonetheless the strong teamwork between all companies working on the site made sure this recycling centre became a reality by summer.


“We are proud to have worked closely with Network Rail in what I believe was a genuine achievement for all involved – no doubt this will make a huge difference to how railway maintenance affects the environment.”

In 2010/11, Network Rail’s National Delivery Service logistics function handled more than 1.5m tonnes of construction and maintenance waste, 90% of which was recycled at local depots and the company’s existing recycling centres at Westbury, Crewe and Doncaster. The NTMRC will help Network Rail achieve its goal to reuse, recycle or recover 95% of construction and maintenance waste by 2014.

Used ballast forms a large part of Network Rail’s waste products and around 200,000t is currently processed at an existing facility at Whitemoor Yard, which opened in 2004. Until now the dirtier ballast, around 50,000t per year, was sent to landfill sites. The new hazardous ballast washing facility in the NTMRC will remove contaminants to create further recycled products, with only a very small amount (around 2,000t) of residual materials required to go to landfill.

Each year around 650,000 used concrete sleepers are returned to depots. Around 130,000 of these are able to be re-used on the railway, with the rest sold or crushed to create recycled concrete and a commercial recycled steel product. All concrete sleepers to be crushed will be processed at the NTMRC.

Network Rail made the most of the on-site recycling facilities already available at its adjacent ‘phase 1’ facility at Whitemoor to reduce the environmental impact of the build. More than 125,000t of recycled ballast was used for foundations and base layers, and the internal roadways were constructed using 17,000m3 of concrete mixed on-site using recycled ballast – saving at least 6,000 lorry movements through the local area.

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