India to test American-made rubber rail ties

A major Indian company which sells railway equipment to the various rail companies will be testing more than 500 Tire-Tie™ rubber rail ties, manufactured by Cazenovia, New York based NP&G Innovations throughout 2010, said NP&G president and co-owner Cal Nichols.

“The Indian rail system is the largest in terms of miles in the world,” he said, “and they just appropriated $3 billion for research and development of new technologies. We’ve shipped 20 ties so far. The company we are dealing with has serious rail capabilities and they are hoping to expand their markets.”

Nichols was recently in India to meet with officials and participate in a trade show where he displayed six ties that are made from discarded tires. Should the rubber ties pass Indian standards and regulations, the market for replacement ties could be huge.

And while discarded tires are available in India to manufacture ties, Nichols said ties made in America would still be needed to meet Indian demand.

“Their disposal and collection system is not as developed as ours, and because of that we will still be processing tires in this country,” he said.

India experiences extreme weather conditions, including the monsoon season which brings torrential rains and moisture, and has track that runs along coastal areas and sections of the country where it is very hot and dry for lengthy periods of time.

“They have similar situations to what we experience in the United States,” said Nichols, who notes that Indian standards are similar to those found in North America and Europe.

In addition to the Indian market, there is also China, which has an extensive rail network.

“Both India and China cannot get enough wood to build standard creosote treated ties and concrete ties are too expensive,” said Nichols.

“We are coming in lighter than concrete and as strong as concrete. Our big claim to fame in these countries, and in general, is meeting or nearing the structural strengths of concrete, while at the same time being 40 to 50 percent of the weight of a concrete tie.

“China and India have bridges that are posted to certain weights,” he added. “If they go in with concrete ties at 900 pounds apiece and our ties weigh 400 to 500 pounds, there is an immediate weight savings and capacity increase in the types of loads that could be carried across the bridges. Our ties absorb more energy and do not experience the stresses that affect concrete ties.”

The company has been manufacturing rail ties since 2003. On June 14, 2004, cross ties were installed on a spur line of the New York Susquehanna Rail Way, which includes straight track and a three degree curve section.

“The ties continue to hold up with no signs of degradation after years of steady use,” said Nichols. “Our current design has never failed a rail test and we recently succeeded the electrical independence test at the Federal Railroad Administrations’ Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI) in Pueblo, Colorado – we had to make sure that we were non-conductive.

“We’ve done all of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies’ tests, TTCI tests and laboratory testing has been completed at the Vossloh Switch Systems Laboratory in France,” he added. “We just did an RIT test to quantify the energy absorption of a rubber tie. Our tie is more rigid and stronger than wood and close to concrete in terms of rigidity of structural strength. The results will compare the differences between wood, concrete, plastic and our rubber tie. The next test we have to pass is an in-track “real time” test, equivalent to 100 million tons. We are arranging it now to be done at the TTCI.”

The Vossloh testing included static 3 point bending, screw pullout and lateral load cyclic fatigue testing to EN13146-N specifications. A comparison was made using a European wood standard tie. All tests on the Tire-Tie passed the EN criteria for static stiffness and durability. The testing at the RIT CIMS laboratory was done using a 2-axis dynamic test machine designed by NPG Innovations. Furthermore, several variations of the Tire-Tie were tested to the AREMA and TTCI recommended test conditions, with comparative testing done on a standard red oak tie.

Each rubber rail tie uses the equivalent of 25 tires.

“We ultimately use about 50 percent of the tire, with the remainder recyclable as crumb rubber and such,” said Nichols. “It all winds up being recycled.”

The upcoming test at the TTCI, combined with the results of the Indian testing, said Nichols, should allow the company to start selling ties in the States this fall.

“Meeting all of the TTCI standards and having its certification is the requirement for anything used in the rail industry in the States,” said Nichols.

Between 18 and 20 million rail ties are replaced annually in the United States, with 90 percent being standard creosote treated ties, 9 percent being concrete ties and the remaining 1 percent being made of steel, composites and other materials.

A standard wood tie, said Nichols, has an average lifespan of 7 to 12 years, with some lasting as few as four years along the gulf coast where they are subject to humidity, moisture and insects.

Concrete ties, said Nichols, are also having problems and this has led to lawsuits and costly replacements.

“CSX just settled a lawsuit against Rocla Concrete Tie, Inc.,” he said. “It was a huge amount of money because 200,000 of their ties were failing. And now AMTRAK is in the middle of a lawsuit. The Washington, D.C. – New York City corridor has 1.3 million concrete ties and about 250,000 are suspect at this point.”

A concrete tie in Europe, said Nichols, who consulted rail industry suppliers, costs around $130 and between $80 and $100 domestically.

Should rail companies use rubber ties, it could go a long way towards using up the annual amount of tires that are discarded. Nine million rubber ties would use the equivalent of 205 million tires.

“I am frequently asked the question ‘what would we do if there were not enough tires,’ and I reply ‘I’d love to have that problem,’” said Nichols.