Dr. Karl-Ulrich Köhler, Chairman of the Management Board of Saarstahl, Benoit Gilson, CEO Infrabel, and Georges Gilkinet, Federal Minister for Mobility

Infrabel receives greener rails

Dr. Karl-Ulrich Köhler, Chairman of the Management Board of Saarstahl, Benoit Gilson, CEO Infrabel, and Georges Gilkinet, Federal Minister for MobilityInfrabel

The Belgian infrastructure manager, Infrabel, recently received its first batch of “green” rails. The production process of these rails results in up to 70 per cent less CO2 emissions compared to a conventional manufacturing process using iron ore and coal as raw materials.

At first glance, there is no difference between these “green rails” and those already laid on the Belgian network: they have the same characteristics (appearance, weight, robustness) and are also transported in short sections via international rail convoys to Schaerbeek. There, in Infrabel’s workshop, they will be assembled, using high-precision welding technology, to form 300-metre-long rails ready to be laid in the tracks.

A small ceremony was held last Wednesday to celebrate the arrival of the first train from Hayange, in the French department of Moselle. The 480-metre-long train was carrying 900 tonnes of rails, which are among the first of a new generation to be delivered to Belgium.

Greener production

The innovation comes from the manufacturing method, which does not require coke (a fuel obtained by heating coal to a very high temperature); the steel is produced using electric ovens. Another development, beneficial to the environment, is that the raw material is scrap metal, i.e. a recycled material. This type of production line reduces the carbon footprint of these rails by around 70 per cent.

Infrabel had won a public contract worth 200 million euro from the firm Saarstahl Rail and its French production units. Since August 2021, Saarstahl Rail, based in Hayange, France, has been owned by the German group SHS-Stahl-Holding-Saar and its subsidiary Saarstahl. In concrete terms, Saarstahl Rail will deliver nearly 2,800 kilometres of these “green rails” to Infrabel over the next four years, which will help to reduce emissions by some 224,000 tonnes, or the equivalent of the annual carbon footprint of 9,000 average households.

An innovative process developed by Saarstahl Rail

Saarstahl Rail is part of a circular economy approach by offering its customers the recycling and recovery of their used rails. The Saarstahl Ascoval electric steel mill recycles scrap metal from the Saarstahl Rail plant in Hayange and from the rail networks, remelts it in its electric arc furnace and produces high-quality steel delivered in the form of blooms to the Hayange plant. These blooms are used to manufacture new green rails by rolling. The entire manufacturing process for these green rails is particularly environmentally friendly, reducing emissions.

In a constant process of infrastructure renewal, between 450 and 500 kilometres of rails are laid each year on the Belgian railway network. In order to ensure the best prices and continuity of supply, Infrabel uses several suppliers. This public contract, launched at the end of 2022, did not (yet) include environmental criteria, but Saarstahl Rail’s offer proved to be the most competitive, while including this “green rail” innovation. In order to limit the use of raw materials and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain, Infrabel already applies environmental and societal criteria in certain procurement files, in accordance with the provisions of the law on public procurement.

More information on the Belgian rail rail sector? Register now for RailTech Belgium 2023. In addition to two conferences, the event includes a large exhibition area with numerous exhibitors, to which access is free. The Federal Minister for Mobility, Georges Gilkinet, will open the event. The morning will be dedicated to the railway vision 2040 and important ongoing developments, such as the deployment of ETCS. The afternoon programme will give you the opportunity to learn all about the railway infrastructure in the ports.

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Author: Emma Dailey

Emma Dailey is an editor at RailTech.com and RailTech.be.

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