The company’s Dura Platform provides a similar solution for station platform maintenance. The pultruded GFRP platform, utilizing various grades of polyester, vinyl ester and proprietary resins, was developed in compliance with standards set by Network Rail to rapidly replace or overlay damaged platforms in modular sections. For example, more than 2,500 square feet of concrete platform at Needham Market train station in England was replaced with Dura Platform in only 36 hours.

“Habitually, these types of platform projects take eight to 10 weeks to complete using traditional materials,” Bowman says. And according to the company, the composite platform replacements can be performed at similar or lower overall costs than concrete.

Overcoming Common Challenges 

“We are definitely seeing a huge increase in the use of GRP for the rail industry, both in the U.K. and overseas, thanks to its compelling lifecycle cost and overall versatility,” Bowman says. However, there are still hurdles to broader growth.

“The use of composites requires a change of mindset for some customers who have traditionally used concrete and may not be aware of the benefits of composites,” says Bowman. For example, there’s a perception among some rail operators that GFRP is not as strong as concrete, while in reality it offers an incredible strength-to-weight ratio, he says.

Companies like Dura Composites continue to develop new materials and technologies to increase the potential strength and cost efficiency. “We are exploring the use of hemp instead of glass due to its improved environmental impact, product strength and natural resin compounds,” Bowman says.

But perhaps the biggest challenge related to composite materials is the initial cost. “It can be higher for composites than for some traditional materials thanks to their highly-engineered composition,” says Bowman. “However, GRP products compete very favorably on a performance/life cycle cost basis versus traditional materials.” When rail owners factor in high initial costs of installation – for example, the costs of using cranes to lift concrete trench covers or the cost of equipment to remove concrete components for routine inspections – then composite products become much more competitive with traditional materials.

These cost arguments may prove critical in moving composites into broader infrastructure applications, as funding is a challenge for improvements in many countries. For example, a May 2017 poll of Californians performed by J. Wallin Opinion Research found that only 12 percent of voters want to maintain their financial commitment to the nation’s first high-speed rail project as its projected cost has ballooned from $40 billion to $64 billion. And a 2015 study by the European Parliament on railway infrastructure financing concluded that the European Union’s railway policy “is a long-term challenge” due to fragmentation of railway systems, their poor conditions in many regions, and varying levels of investment support from member countries.