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Wahid Ferdous Allan Manalo
MEng, BScEng (Civil) PhD, MEng, BScEng (Civil)
CEEFC, School of Civil Engineering and CEEFC, School of Civil Engineering and
Surveying, University of Southern Queensland, Surveying, University of Southern Queensland,
Toowoomba, QLD 4350, Australia Toowoomba, QLD 4350, Australia

Thiru Aravinthan Gerard Van Erp
DEng, MEng, BScEng, MIEAust, CPEng, PE PhD, MEng, BScEng (Civil), FIEAust, CPEng
CEEFC, School of Civil Engineering and Former professor, CEEFC, University of
Surveying, University of Southern Queensland, Southern Queensland,
Toowoomba, QLD 4350, Australia Toowoomba, QLD 4350, Australia

Composite sleeper is becoming a suitable alternative for replacing the existing concrete, steel and
particularly timber sleeper in both mainline and heavy haul rail network. Composite sleeper technologies are
already available in the last 20 years but they have gained limited acceptance by the railway industry. For
better understanding of the reasons for their slow uptake in the market, a comparative study was conducted
among the existing composite sleepers. Firstly, this paper accumulated information on the performance of
commercially available composite sleepers. Secondly, issues on the application and developments of
composite sleepers are identified. Thirdly, the ongoing research on the composite sleeper is presented for
keeping update the sleeper researchers, engineers and end users. The potential of sandwich composite for
overcoming the current limitations of composite sleeper is briefly discussed. Finally, this paper provided
suggestions and recommended solutions to increase the market opportunities of composite sleepers.

INTRODUCTION their acceptance by the railway industry is quite
low despite the benefits of using composite
Timber, steel and concrete are the primary
product. This paper presented the true reasons
materials used to manufacture railway sleepers;
behind their slow uptake and provided some
which are vulnerable to mechanical, biological and
guidelines to increase the market opportunities.
chemical degradation (1). The problems of timber
rotting, splitting and being infested with insects, as AVAILABLE COMPOSITE SLEEPERS
well as its scarcity, became a new challenge which
Several companies and research institutions have
led to the use steel and concrete. Steel’s risk of
developed composite sleepers in different
corrosion, high electrical conductivity, fatigue
countries. These sleepers are made from a variety
cracking in the rail seat region and the difficulty of
of materials: recycled plastic, FRP, natural rubber,
packing it with ballast has made it an inferior
sandwich composites and so on. Brief descriptions
material to be used in sleepers. On the other hand,
of the available composite sleepers are discussed
prestressed concrete sleepers, which offer greater
in the following subsections.
durability than timber and steel, suffer from heavy
weight, high initial cost, low impact resistance, 1. FFU Synthetic Sleeper
susceptibility to chemical attack and consequently
In 1978, the Japanese company Sekisui
have failed to satisfactorily meet demands (2).
Chemical Co. Ltd. developed a synthetic wood
The global composites market is rapidly increasing called ESLON Neo Lumber FFU (Fibre-
and it is anticipated to reach approximately $35.1 reinforced Foamed Urethane) for the
billion by 2019, with a compound annual growth manufacture of railway sleepers in which
rate (CAGR) of 6.6%. Several companies have thermosetting rigid urethane resin foam is
been developed composite railway sleepers; but reinforced with long glass fibres. As the

Axion EcoTrax Sleeper span rail bridge in Chongqing city. To date. insects and moisture. 3) including: switches. fungus. it damage by moisture. spike pull. This sleeper technology is now being introduced in Europe. heat and corrosion. scrapped vehicle tyres. a variety of sleepers have been produced for different applications (Fig. and possesses the advantages of both materials low electrical conductivity (7. road crossing. was taken over by Axion (7). Canada and Southeast Asia (10). Austria and. environmentally harmful chemicals. unlike traditional timber sleepers. ‘Axion’. Apart from in Japan. milk jugs and laundry detergent bottles) and industrial plastic waste under the brand name ‘EcoTrax’ (10). TieTek does not need to be impregnated with ceased production in early 2010. It was composed of 85% recycled materials and designed to replace traditional timber sleepers and. passenger. a US green technology company. this sleeper is more impervious to rot. Composite railway sleepers: new developments and opportunities CEEFC. bridges. developed a composite railway sleeper from recycled plastic bottles and bags. 2) throughout the world. Since its introduction.5 million sleepers) with its main application in turnouts. Figure 1: FFU Turnout Sleeper (5) 2. good material FFU can be classified as being resistance to rail-seat abrasion. An investigation of the acoustic and dynamic characteristics of a FFU turnout sleeper showed that its performance is equivalent to that of a timber sleeper (4). insects and fungi. good resistance to water absorption. its processing function. in 17 years. In 2007. The benefits of this sleeper: lower noise and vibration levels. Australia. Toowoomba characteristic properties of the synthetic (40 years) than a timber sleeper. 1) in more than 925 kms of track (approximately 1. Due to a (3) and. In 1994 this manufacturing technology was developed by the Polywood Plastic Composite Company.Ferdous et al. and more than 50 years of design life. China (6). Their Figure 2: TieTek Composite Sleeper (8) applicability is also now investigated for a long 3. TieTek Sleeper The US company TieTek LLC in Houston. Australia . and heavy duty track. easy drill ability. between those of wood and plastic. number of quality control issues (9). New Zealand. approximately 2 million were installed (Fig. open steel girder structures and tunnels (5). in Australia. now manufactures composite sleepers made from 100% recycled consumer plastic (such as plastic coffee cups. and a longer life span IHHA 2015 Conference 21 – 24 June 2015 Perth. Sekisui FFU sleepers have been installed in Germany. recently. provides better resistance to plate wear and has a longer life span (50 years) (11). USQ. plastic bags. this sleeper has been installed (Fig. The key features are: light weight. 8). Compared with the traditional timber sleepers. waste fibreglass and structural mineral fillers. better lateral stability.

lower life cycle cost. insects. Tufflex Sleeper The ban on felling trees in India motivated Permali Wallace Pty. Canada and India (12). longer service life (40 to 50 underground railway line and narrow gauge years). developed an from 100% recycled composites obtained from unique processing technology for both domestic and industrial wastes. Some trial sleepers were installed as a and caustic environment.and low- a resin matrix. 18). Tufflex Plastic installed sleepers in underground lines of the AngloGold Ashanti’ and Gold Fields’ mines in Africa and their in-service performances are now being investigated (17. Since 2005. pH and high levels of water and humidity are challenging issues associated with using traditional sleeper materials. sleepers in North America and is currently introducing them in Mexico.Ferdous et al. Figure 5: FRP Sleeper (13) IHHA 2015 Conference 21 – 24 June 2015 Perth. These manufacturing composite sleepers from wastes include: plastic bags. I-Plas Sleeper 4. resistance to fire. The primary target is to (Fig. The key features are: light density polyethylene materials for an weight (54 kg). a South African company. low and Mining. IntegriCo Sleeper I-Plas. Toowoomba Figure 3: Axion Composite Sleeper (10) 6. (15). USQ. and claimed to have a longer service life than innovative design. Ltd. Benefits of this product include: maintenance cost and 30-year service life good resistance to moisture. Since 1998. Australia . It is electrical insulation. 7). to develop an In 2004. An FRP a composite sleeper made from a special mix composite ones using fibre reinforcement and of recycled polypropylene and high. Composite railway sleepers: new developments and opportunities CEEFC. plate-cut. 5) (13). 6) (14). good resistance to corrosion. and landfill-bound 100% recycled plastic materials old car bumpers. degradation. Commuter. high railway track in sugar plantation (Fig. Figure 4: IntegriCo Composite Sleeper (12) Figure 6: I-Plas Sleeper (16) 5. and an expected life replacement of deteriorated timber sleepers in span (50 years). Halifax-based British manufacturing company has developed a new railway sleeper IntegriCo Composites Inc. drink bottles. several have timber and concrete sleepers when used in been installed in different locations in India for underground mines where high fluctuations of trial purposes (Fig. The different type of railroad performance against rotting. Key benefits are: better application. Industrial. twisting. IntegriCo has slower lines and their performances in rail installed more than 1 million composite tracks are currently being investigated (16). Fibre-reinforced Polymer (FRP) Sleeper 7. introduced alternative to a timber sleeper. 4) and produces different types of replace timber sleepers with this eco-friendly sleepers depending on the required product (Fig. Recently. applications are: Class I.

bridge bearings. it is claimed to have a better lateral resistance. KLP Sleeper The ban of using harmful creosote oil to preserve timber sleepers motivated a company in The Netherlands to introduce 100% recycled plastic sleepers under the brand name KLP (Kunststof Lankhorst Product) for main track. a lower consumption of primary materials due to the use of waste plastic and better acoustic damping properties than metal and concrete (22. They improved the mechanical properties of natural rubber using an ebonite system whereby the cross-link density of natural rubber was increased. The benefits of this plastic sleeper includes a long life (50 years). glass fibre wastes and auxiliary agents with a thermoplastic polymer matrix using an extrusion process. the French installed 1 km of rail track using them as a trial to evaluate the track’s performance (Fig. This is a good initiative for minimising IHHA 2015 Conference 21 – 24 June 2015 Perth. Since they were first developed in 2006. The manufacturer optimised the volumes of materials for its main track product which requires 35% less plastic than a traditionally shaped rectangular solid sleeper. switch and bridge applications (transoms). 23). Since beginning in 2008. KLP sleepers have been installed in more than 20 turnout applications in the Netherlands and Germany (21). Mixed Plastic Waste (MPW) Sleeper they considered their benchmark (19. ease of installation and environmental friendliness. 20). USQ. 9). and due to their innovative design. 10) which are sometimes beneficial in terms of weight reduction but not good from structural point of view. Composite railway sleepers: new developments and opportunities CEEFC. Also it has found many voids (Fig. They obtained better compressive modulus and hardness of Figure 9: KLP Sleeper the modified natural rubber than scrap rubber/tyres based TieTek composites which 10. plates for vibration absorbers and blocks for the seismic protection of tall buildings inspired a group of researchers in Thailand to manufacture railway sleepers using it in 2005 (Fig. durability. Australia . Natural rubber composite Sleeper The use of natural rubber in rubber-asphalt mixtures for road surfaces. Figure 7: Tufflex Sleeper (17) 8. Figure 8: Natural Rubber Sleeper (20) 9. It is expected that this sleeper has much better weather resistance than timber. 8).Ferdous et al. Toowoomba the cost of both the sleeper manufacture and transportation. Recently. the Railwaste project in Germany has produced alternative railway sleepers from a combination of mixed plastic wastes.

with reinforcement provided by a conducted a series of tests on it. In 2011. Australia . IHHA 2015 Conference 21 – 24 June 2015 Perth. used. Composite railway sleepers: new developments and opportunities CEEFC. JIS E 1202. Recently in 2014. moisture and UV proposed a geopolymer concrete sleeper and degradation. Hybrid Concrete Sleeper The geopolymer concrete sleeper is now Figure 10: MPW Sleeper considered an alternative environmentally friendly railway sleeper as geopolymer 11. Uehara (27) protects it from insect attack. 12) showed far better mechanical properties than most of the available composite railway sleepers and is comparable with the existing timber turnout sleepers. 12. has been manufacturing geopolymer Marine. a plastic composite wood-core uses an industrial by-product called fly ash.Ferdous et al. (29) investigated the feasibility of a geopolymer concrete-filled pultruded composite sleeper (Fig. USQ. sleeper was introduced by the Texas based Australia’s leading concrete sleeper supplier. Figure 13: Hybrid Sleeper (29) The performance of the composite sleepers are summarised in Table 1. This sleeper can provide sufficient resistance to hold the screw in position which is one of the most common problems of existing plastic composite product. Ferdous et al. 13) and their initial results showed satisfactory performances compared with those of timber and existing composite sleepers. with the rectangular wooden beam inside which carries results stratifying the Japanese standard they the loads (Fig. Palomo and Fernández-Jiménez (28) manufactured alkali- activated fly ash mono-block prestressed concrete sleepers for an industrial trial and their experimental results met the requirements of both the Spanish and European codes. which tracks since 2002 (26). 11) (24). US company named Southwest RV and Rocla. Toowoomba Figure 12: Glue Laminated Sleeper (25) 13. In 2010. The innovative sandwich beam concept (Fig. the durability of eco-friendly prestressed concrete sleeper made from steel slags have been investigated through field inspection and it is claimed as an alternative to conventional prestressed Figure 11: Wood Core Sleeper concrete sleeper with the additional advantage of low environmental impact (30). Its main design concept includes a prestressed concrete sleepers for mainline rail polyethylene-based plastic mixture. Wood Core Sleeper concrete reduces landfill weights because it In 2011. Glue Laminated Sandwich Sleeper The behaviour of glue-laminated sandwich beams have been investigated by Manalo and Aravinthan (25) for replacing traditional timber sleepers in turnout application.

It has been reported that the modified A sandwich composite panel is considered a compound of natural rubber composite sleeper material of choice because of its durability and showed very stiff and inelastic performance to hold superior structural performance under static. For example. 32) 3 Density. (kN) 40 65 35. 1. (kg/m ) 1085 670-820 1153 849-897 1121 993 - Modulus of Elasticity. . the spike for fastening system (19). . (MPa) 65 142 >18. (MPa) . The rate of timber. .6 17.2×10 - 6 6 Electrical Impedance (wet).4 . . Australia . 140×10 500×10 . 63. (MPa) 16000 8100 >1724 1724 1655 1517 5190 Modulus of Rupture.5 20.2 - Screw Pullout Force. hardwood timber sleeper has creep depends on the magnitude and duration of a modulus of rupture of 65 MPa while the recycled stress and temperature at which the load is plastic sleeper exhibits only around 20 MPa. This has been considered the most strength and stiffness are provided by its skin and likely reason for derailment failure of track system its shear strength by its core. .Ferdous et al. No@20s . 35). - Flammability .(cm/cm/ C) . behaviour of a sandwich composite panel was IHHA 2015 Conference 21 – 24 June 2015 Perth. - Impact bending strength. 36. USQ. - Table 1: Comparison of the Performance of Composite Sleeper Moreover. 269 176. The effect of creep leads to stress prohibitive cost of the most composite sleeper is relaxation and consequently the fastening system another reason identified for their slow uptake in tends to loose particularly in the curve track that the market. The the price of composite sleeper is approximately 5 lack of knowledge on the long term performances to 10 times higher than that of a standard timber of composite sleeper technologies are also sleeper. under sustained loads. It consists of strong loosening of fastener makes the truck unstable fibre reinforcement through its thin layers being due to stress relaxation when using composite bonded to its lightweight thick core. Most of the alternative sleeper technologies Furthermore. The applied. Some of the composite sleeper restricts their application in rail track.6 18. 41 . 37). .6 20. (MPa) . . Over time the fatigue and impact loadings. Composite railway sleepers: new developments and opportunities CEEFC.9 15.6 31. Van Erp and Mckay (33) indicated that has an adverse effect on gauge holding (37).6 15. plastic sleeper has been considered the primary generate stress concentration and later leads to obstacles of their widespread application in railway the local failure before their design life.2 103 Compressive MOE. . Toowoomba Wood Glue Types of sleeper Timber FFU TieTek Axion IntegriCo core laminated Properties References (4) (4.26×10 0.5 262 241 - Rail-Seat Compression.8 0 -4 -4 -4 -4 Thermal Expansion. The flexural constructed with composite sleeper (32. (Ω) . the formation of voids during PROBLEMS OF COMPOSITE SLEEPER manufacturing of plastic sleeper creates problems The limited strength and stiffness of recycled to transfer stresses from one part to others. 31) (8) (10) (12) (24) (25. the are developed for replacing existing timber but composite sleeper may be subjected to permanent their strength and stiffness are not compatible with deformation due to creep (34.6 73. . (MPa) 60 58 16.35×10 0. track. . technologies are struggling to maintain the rail POTENTIAL OF SANDWICH COMPOSITE track gauge due to their low capacity of holding rail fastenings.74×10 1. Its flexural sleepers (34).

rail seat region is the most when a specimen is subjected to a large impact of critical section and other parts of sleeper do not 108 Joule. environmental loads from UV radiation. Moreover. (40) who found that loads are generally distributed at the rail seat there is a 60% reduction in compressive strength region. To increase the sandwich composites are expected when they are strength and stiffness of recycled plastic sleepers. investigated yet. Their The first author wishes to thank the University of results showed a very insignificant effect on the Southern Queensland for financial and material IHHA 2015 Conference 21 – 24 June 2015 Perth. Their optimal use of materials and improve results from four-point bending tests showed that manufacturing techniques will help minimise the its ultimate normalised load is only 10% lower than overall costs. Reductions in the tensile. shear and bending strengths of sleeper from another material. Stone et al. The effect of UV radiation on been developed in different parts of the world but their uptake in the market is extremely slow. Similarly. distilled water and observed in the former and a different failure mode salt water conditions. and they found The major challenges in using composite railway that their fatigue limits were around 60% of their sleepers are their limited strength and stiffness ultimate flexural strengths. The E-glass fibre-reinforced epoxy/GFRP composite laminates has been investigated through CAI primary obstacles of their widespread application testing (41). to date. a significant amount of research is considered the most important impact required to develop the techniques how the fibres characterisation process because delamination will work with thermoplastic polymer. (43) sleeper is anticipated to provide an efficient investigated the effect of freeze-thaw cycling on structural element. high price. etc. the flexural strength. strengths were applied in increments of 5% and at DISCUSSION a frequency of 3 Hz until failure or up to 1 million cycles. On the other damage is quite common in impacted skin. USQ. and/or core failure by research needs to be performed either on the either crushing or shear. compression-after-impact (CAI) has been However. The hand. subjected to impact loading. very little research has been conducted on the durability of sandwich A number of composite sleeper technologies have composite structures. The material cost is significant in case of composite and any reduction Outdoors. whichever occurred first. moisture. low capacity of holding screw. Impact loading can which is not compatible with timber in most cases damage sandwich structures through delamination and their high prices compared to standard sleeper and fibre breakage in the skin. a railway sleeper is not only subjected of the volume of materials can contribute to the to wheel loads from vehicles but also cost minimisation. the cost of composite sleeper technologies CAI strength of a woven carbon/epoxy skin and can be reduced by optimising the use of materials. CONCLUSIONS Unfortunately. it is suggested to use fibre reinforcements. PVC foam core sandwich composite panel was When the train passes over the rail. (38) in both flat-wise mechanical properties of the FRP skin for freeze- (skin in the horizontal) and edge-wise (skin in the thaw cycling between 4. However.1% after 48 hours of UV radiation under two different the body of sleeper. formation of voids into buckling strengths obtained 47. Stress levels of over the structure if it is exposed to a moist between 60 and 90% of their ultimate flexural environment. the wheel investigated by Schubel et al. Therefore. de-bonding of the materials. high pH. with their residual compressive are their low strength and stiffness. storage modulus and loss ACKNOWLEDGEMENT factor of a sandwich composite skin manufactured from a glass fibre and vinyl ester resin. recommended using a protective cover composites under flexural loading. Australia . require the same strength. high and low temperatures. Wu et al. The introduction of long fibre reinforcements will improve the strength and They drilled small holes through the width of a specimen in order to create the worst-case stiffness of recycled plastic sleepers.1 and 56.8 0C for 1250 vertical) positions.Ferdous et al. (42) due to creep and temperature variations. and permanent deformation environmental conditions.4 and ‒17. to prevent moisture growth and life prediction of foam-core sandwich ingression. that. The potentiality of using sandwich composite panel for manufacturing composite those of unaffected samples but they found no reduction in its stiffness properties. a significant skin and core interface. To address those issues. Toowoomba investigated by Manalo et al. the scenario of the entire core being flooded. (39) investigated the fatigue crack some level of moisture. existing composite sleepers or a new composite compressive.. the long term performances and evaluated the flexural performances of GFRP skin- based honeycomb sandwich panels immersed in a durability of composite sleeper are not fully 15% sodium chloride solution for 42 days at 60 0C. Composite railway sleepers: new developments and opportunities CEEFC. although this sandwich panel can absorb Kulkarni et al. with a sudden brittle failure of it hours and 625 cycles in dry air. The ingression of moisture seen in the latter in which the specimens provided into a honeycomb core sandwich structure was higher ultimate strengths and their non-horizontal studied by Cise and Lakes (44) who concluded skins prevented sudden failure of the panel.

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