Keen to be green
Network Rail has been taking as many environmentally friendly options as it can in its current programme of station upgrades, as well as its ongoing renewals programme, as Katie Silvester discovers
As the owner of Britain’s rail infrastructure, Network Rail is responsible for several large-scale construction projects each year. The not-for-dividend company has to renew the country’s rails at a rate of 1.6 miles a day and is currently overseeing major rebuilding work at several of the UK’s largest stations – Paddington, King’s Cross and Birmingham New Street. Its work can, potentially, have a huge impact on the environment, therefore.
‘With an infrastructure that’s broadly long and thin, we can have a huge impact on the environment. To minimise that is one of our core responsibilities,’ says Andy Haynes, finance and commercial director of Western and Wales for Network Rail.
‘Network Rail is the largest provider of business space to large and medium sized companies in the UK and is, in its own right, one of the largest clients for construction for new build. A practical approach to sustainability is, therefore, essential.’
Maintenance and renewal work produces 750,000 tonnes of metal, wood or steel sleepers annually. On top of that, 2.8 million tonnes of ballast is removed from track beds to be replaced with new ballast. In recent years, it has become possible to recycle increasingly more of these materials so that they don’t just end up in landfill sites.
Whitemoor centre in Cambridgeshire has had a ballast crusher since August 2011 last year, which means that 90 per cent can be recycled, without being treated as road material. The rest is washed, using 40 per cent rainwater, and reused elsewhere.
Sleepers are repurposed too, with 500,000 each year turned into aggregates. ‘A specialist machine can even take the metal base plates off timber sleepers, so that it can be reused for firewood or in gardens,’ explains Haynes.
Not all materials are re-used for different purposes, some can be reused on the network – for example, 500 miles of track each year, along with 15,000 sets of track panels, can be used in low volume routes, rural lines and sidings. Reusing old rails is 70 per cent cheaper than producing new rails.
The Eastleigh depot in Hampshire has just been upgraded to handle the work.
King’s Cross station, is currently undergoing a major refurbishment. Contractors have installed 2,500 square metres of solar photo-voltaic tiles on its roof, as part of the on-going £550m project to revitalise the station, which is used by up to 50 million passengers a year.
‘While high-profile schemes like this catch the headlines, we’ve also got to make sure that smaller incremental steps are paid attention to,’ says Haynes. ‘So at our traction switching enclosures that provide the power for the railway to operate, we’ve slowly been installing PV on those as well, so they become self-sustaining.’
Blackfriars station has also made use of PV cells on its roof – 6,000 square metres of them – in the upgrade work taking place at the station. That makes it the largest installation anywhere in the country and helps to support a 50 per cent reduction of CO2 produced by the station, saving around 500 tonnes a year of carbon emissions. Network Rail and its contractor Balfour Beatty won a Considerate Contractors Scheme award for Best Environmental Project for Blackfriars, mainly through the use of barges to transport the material from a logistics centre up to the production site.
‘As a major operator of urban facilities, we need to take every opportunity to reverse the erosion of natural wildlife habitats in urban environments and elsewhere,’ says Haynes. ‘At Farringdon station, we responded to Islington borough Council’s challenge and installed a green roof on the station, which fulfills almost a fifth of their environmental target achievements in that one installation. It provides a remarkably thriving environment for species that have started to return to some of our urban areas – the invertebrates that live on those areas will attract and help sustain communities of birds.’