ProRail bans ballast stones from three quarries due to harmful quartz dust

ProRail temporarily prohibits the use of stones for track ballast from three certified European quarries. Rocks from these quarries contained too much quartz dust, which is harmful when inhaled. This has emerged from a study carried out by research institute TNO on behalf of the Dutch infrastructure manager.

The results are from the first part of a TNO study into quartz dust in rail ballast. According to ProRail, the results show that some rocks can release too much respirable quartz dust when processed in the track. The fine, soluble dust particles can cause dust lungs and lung cancer. “Although the three types of stone have not been used by our contractors in recent years, ProRail is taking over the advice of TNO and we have informed contractors that we are temporarily excluding the use of this ballast for the Dutch railways”, said the rail manager.

Investigate quartz dust

Because the report has not yet been finalised, TNO does not want to comment yet. In the second part, the research organization examines how much respirable quartz dust is released per type of stone during work on the track. The results are expected in the summer of 2021.

Spokesperson Andy Wiemer of ProRail: “Whether it is really the case that stones from these quarries are ultimately more harmful to people’s health, should become clear in part two of the study that will be completed in the summer.

These stones are temporarily excluded:

  • Quartzite from the Taben Roth quarry (discontinued in recent years)
  • Granodiorite from Jelsa quarry (no longer delivered in recent years)
  • Granite from Glensanda quarry (not delivered since 2019)

There are a total of twelve certified quarries throughout Europe where rail contractors are allowed to purchase ballast, three of which are now no longer in use. According to ProRail, the first part of the TNO study shows that all quarries used by ProRail meet the requirements set by the rail manager for ballast.

Track maintenance

In addition to the stop of new rail ballast from the three quarries, track workers also have to deal with rail ballast with quartz dust that was placed on the Dutch track years ago. Trade union manager Michiel de Boer of FNV Spoor pointed out earlier that ProRail and the contractors have “a joint responsibility in this”. “In addition to the approach at the source (new ballast), We still have to deal with maintenance of the stones that are already in the track for many years to come. So we will certainly have to look seriously at how we deal with this.”

Spokesperson Andy Wiemer points out that an Occupational Hygiene strategy is being followed for this. “This involves keeping track ballast wet and wearing good personal protective equipment. That is and will remain very important”, he says. “If there is no quartz in it, then dust in itself is something that is taken into account. The Work Hygiene Strategy has also been drawn up for this, because you also have to protect yourself against dust without quartz. As ProRail, we will make extra checks that the measures are being complied with.”

Price and time pressure

Contractors previously indicated that price and time pressure from ProRail ensures that little attention is paid to dust control. Wiemer: “In principle, you should ensure that you avoid dust as much as possible, and if that includes keeping it wet, that should be applied.” He points out that ProRail, together with the contractors and Railpro, has put the SALT train (StofArmLosTrein) on the market to prevent swirling dust. “We didn’t do that for nothing. Ballast must be kept wet where possible.”

When asked whether the responsibility is not placed too much with the contractor in this way, the spokesperson said that it concerns a chain responsibility to which “everyone has their part to contribute”.

ProRail will determine on the basis of the second survey that will be published in the summer whether the requirements for the stones that contractors may use must be adjusted. It will then also become clear whether the temporary shutdown of the now excluded quarries will remain in effect.

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Author: Marieke van Gompel

Marieke van Gompel is editor-in-chief of, and, online magazines for railway professionals.

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