Recycled plastics could become a part of the railway system Supplied: Wikimedia

Australian Railways are on their way to getting an environmentally friendly upgrade.

by Jenny Archdall

Produced for online by Natalie O’Brien

New railway sleepers made of recycled plastic instead of timber, are being trialled in a new initiative putting Queensland rail on track toward a greener future.

The new sleepers would last around 35 years longer.

Integrated Recycling General Manager Stephen Webster says plastic sleepers are the future for rail tracks.

“Increasingly, timber is now no longer readily available for the use as railway sleepers,” he says.

Queensland Greens Conveyor Andrew Bartlett says while the Greens are against plastic they recognise some plastics are unavoidable.

“It is important to look for ways to reduce that, recycle that in effective ways, it has been done on a small scale in a number of ways already and this sort of large scale usage looks like a valuable approach,” he says.

This is one step we can take towards reducing our waste.

“Well certainly to find long-term uses for plastic would be very helpful to the environment, there’s a huge problem with plastic waste in all parts of the environment now,” he says.

Mr Webster says Queensland Rail is already taking steps to transfer to plastic sleepers.

“Queensland Rail, who have got a very big project ongoing at the moment, the development of an alternate composite sleeper, which is either not made from timber or from concrete,” he says.

He says Queensland Rail is a trend setter for alternative sleepers.

“I think the leadership shown by Queensland Rail in this area is a significant step forward in advancing the development of alternate technology,” Mr Webster says.

He also highlights a need for future government support to continue green-friendly initiatives.

“In time there will need to be support from Australian Governments to ensure that the recycled stream of waste is made available to those using it in significant industrial applications,” he says.

While currently no certifications are in place for plastic railway sleepers in Australia, the Victorian Government has a draft bill underway for use in tourist and heritage railways.

“We are about to commence our final tests with Monash University and we expect that to be finalised, and us to be certified over the next month,” Mr Webster says.

The plastic sleepers have also been tested for use by Queensland sugar cane farmers.