Green Rail, an Italian idea to make green railways

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Interview with Giovanni De Lisi, founder of a startup that is about to market railroad ties made of recycled plastics and rubber.

giovanni_delisi_web2-e1435748609299-270x270Circular economy will be travelling at high speed thanks to ecofriendly railroad ties. Green Rail is an Italian startup company that provides a solution to make railways greener, with the aid of one of the main transportation materials: tyre rubber. The company designed several railroad ties made of recycled plastics and rubber from end-of-life tyres. The inner part consists of reinforced concrete, while the outer casing is made of a mix of rubber and plastic that make the product fireproof and temperature resistant, in addition to reducing vibrations and noise. Green Rail developed four types of these innovative ties, with the aim of covering the needs of any railway line. To know more about this new circular economy challenge, Recycling Point interviewed Giovanni Maria De Lisi, founder and CEO of Green Rail.

How was the idea of Green Rail born?

The idea comes from my work experience. I started working when I was 19, during my law studies, in my father’s company, which did railroad construction and maintenance. As a railroad worker, I used to install only timber ties and above all cement ties, which make up for 90% of all railroad ties.

What inspired you to look for an alternative?

Cement ties have pretty high maintenance costs. So I started doing some research and I found out that some nations – USA, China, India – were producing ties made of recycled plastics, which however could only replace old timber ties. What was still missing was a sustainable alternative for the market standard: cement ties. Starting from that idea, in 2011 I started developing what in 2013 would become Green Rail. This year, our basic railroad tie model will be certified and homologated. After this step, we’ll be ready for the market.

What’s the difference with a traditional cement tie?

At the passage of the train, cement ties produce very strong vibrations and loud noise, and most importantly they pulverize the ballast, that is the gravel under the ties that serves as base for the railroad. This causes problems with the aligning of the track and requires maintenance works to level the ties again. In case of high speed trains, this operation can be required as often as every 24 hours. To avoid these problems, usually a rubber mat is applied under the ties, but this causes a substantial increase of costs. A further problem is the life span of cement ties: they don’t last more than 30/40 years.

What’s new about the ties made of recycled material?

They have a longer life span, up to 50 years. They also cause less vibrations and less noise, and their maintenance costs can be reduced up to 50%. Their price is about 15%-20% less than traditional cement ties. Concerning the environment, every km of recycled ties allows to recycle 35 tons of end-of-life tyres and 35 tons of plastic from urban garbage collection.

What happens to these ties at the end of their life cycle?

The outer rubber casing can be fully recycled, as also the inner steel and cement structure: steel is sent to steel mills, cement is crushed and then used as filling material for railway construction sites.

So basically, in addition to the environmental benefits, the project was developed because it also offers economic advantages?

Yes of course. For an idea to be successful, environmental advantages must be accompanied by economic advantages too.

What are you expecting from the market?

Our goal is to launch the product on the international market. The most promising areas are developing countries, which require sustainable products and most importantly need to build large infrastructures. In countries that are already highly industrialized, such as Italy, railway infrastructure is already present and well established, and it just requires some maintenance.

For more information, visit the website of Green Rail.

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