Recycling is not only good for the environment, it is also a good way to save money.

Network Rail has been getting very involved in recycling over the past few years, probably for both reasons, with new recycling centres at Whitemoor Yard and Westbury having been covered in previous issues of the rail engineer.

Now, as part of that process, the Eastleigh Long Welded Rail Depot is getting in on the act. Opened in 2011, Eastleigh LWRD has been supplying the rail network with 216 metre long rails which it welds up from 108 metre lengths of new rail supplied by companies such as Tata Steel.

With a current output of 50,000 tonnes a year (that’s around 275 miles of new track), it has been giving a good service to Network Rail’s track renewals teams.

Rail recovery

Eastleigh LWRD is operated by Network Rail’s National Delivery Service (NDS), and part of their strategy is to recover used rail wherever possible and to reuse it on the network. So plans were drawn up for Eastleigh to weld up lengths of recycled rail and to reuse it on the secondary network.

To do this, the LWRD needed some new equipment, and some more room. The depot sidings would have to be extended, the stocking and processing areas enlarged, and a new building erected.

This would house a new hydraulic four-way press and a new automatic rail saw. There would also have to be a new link road connecting all three facilities. And all without interrupting the existing depot’s production.

A team of contractors was brought in to do the work. Osborne were appointed principal contractor, but several separate design and build packages were let to undertake various parts of the work.

Challenging work

At the civils end, 6,562m3 of contaminated soil had to be removed. The new areas were constructed and the new building erected. A great deal of coordination was needed between all the contractors so they didn’t interfere with the day-to-day running of the plant.

Pre-planned maintenance shut down periods were fully utilised, and programme reviews every two weeks kept the whole project on course. Indeed, the whole programme was accelerated by six months – a challenge that the team was able to meet through extensive co-operation, communication and collaborative working.

The new building housing the press and saw needed to be integrated directly with the existing Depot production process beneath the gantry crane. Major modifications and enhancements had to be carried out to the conveyor control system.

The electrical supply for the new plant was problematic. This was the first time that such equipment had been installed on the positive side of the welder.

This meant that there was a risk that, if the rail between the press and saw building and the welder formed a continuous link, the 100,000 amps produced when the welder is used would destroy the new press and saw.

Considerable additional earthing work and the installation of safety cut-out switches added and linked into the depot production control system were required to alleviate this risk.

Physical works, including testing and commissioning and operative training, were completed on 29 February and was opened by Richard O’Brien, Route Managing Director (Wessex), on 21 March, six months early as planned.

With the re-use of recycled rail estimated to save Network Rail £4 million a year, that six months time improvement represented an additional £2 million of savings.

The process

Lengths of recycled rail are shipped to Eastleigh from various locations around the country. It has already been fully visually inspected and ultrasonically tested, and any scrap rail cut out and discarded. On arrival at the LWRD it is sorted by profile. Any old welds, done before 1976, are cut out.

To make up a 216 metre length, selected rails of the same profile, and a minimum length of 8-9 metres long, are selected to meet Network Rail standards for Serviceable Rail.

These profiles have to match not only for their original section but also as regards to wear, otherwise there will be steps in the top surface. The selected lengths are straightened and welded together to make up the finished 216 metres.

While these recycled rails are made up from track removed from main line duty, they are quite good enough for use for an extended period on secondary routes.

They are 70% cheaper than new rail, and Eastleigh can produce 10,000 tonnes a year of them, or 8-10% of the rail that Network Rail uses in a year. A saving well worth making.