Improving Outdated Infrastructure

Many countries are also finding that composites can help lead the wide-scale infrastructure improvements necessary in the rail industry. And there’s much work that needs to be done. Consider, for example, that the U.S. rail network is comprised of nearly 140,000 miles of track and more than 100,000 bridges. The 2017 Infrastructure Report Card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers noted that the average age of major Northeast Corridor backlog projects – those between Boston and Washington D.C. that require upgrade and repair – is 111 years old. Everything on this list from tracks to moveable bridges is overdue for an overhaul.


Dura Composites’ patented ballast retention system consists of a gray open-mesh grating (which forms the inspection lid) and white GFRP ballast board (which helps to retain the ballast or gravel that forms the bed of the railroad track). The system allows inspectors easy access to hidden critical parts of rail infrastructure to facilitate key safety checks. Photo credit: Dura Composites

In the meantime, routine maintenance of aging infrastructure is critical. Network Rail, the owner of Great Britain’s rail infrastructure, conducts approximately 10,500 annual inspections of the timber and steel structures buried in ballast (gravel that forms the bed of a railroad track), concrete or other materials to ascertain their condition without damaging the structure itself or disrupting rail services. Using an easy-to-remove composite grating to cover the timber and steel structures can make such inspections quicker and less expensive, according to Dura Composites.

Typically, conducting track maintenance requires downtime when trains don’t run. As a result, infrastructure solutions that last longer than traditional products – or eliminate downtime altogether – can lead to significant cost savings for rail systems. Maintenance costs can also be reduced by using lightweight composite solutions for applications such as station platforms rather than concrete ones that require heavy machinery to lift materials on and off site.

As Bowman points out, “The lightweight, high-strength and non-conductive nature of composite materials and their ease of handling allows for work to be carried out at difficult locations where a more traditional approach would be a logistical nightmare.”

Ferme Park railyard in London replaced its concrete troughs along the trackside walkway with Dura Slab GFRP duct cover. By using 43-millimeter Dura Slab Light, consisting of a 38-millimeter thick grating with a 5-millimeter solid top, the railyard was able to protect service equipment with a cable trough covering that could be easily removed for rapid maintenance. Dura Composites says its GRFP solution was chosen because traditional concrete troughs have a tendency to suffer from corrosion and sporadic failures, rendering them unsafe.