NETWORK RAIL has missed a golden opportunity to test out an alternative trackbed system that could slash the cost of rail renewals, a leading rail consultant said this week.
Scott Wilson Railways (SWR) said that the year long blockade in place on the North Kent line as part of a £35M tunnel restoration scheme is the ideal site to try out new technologies.
But Network Rail has opted to renew the line with traditional ballasted track.
'The Strood & Higham Tunnels project is a good example of a golden opportunity which has been ignored, ' said SWR consultant Roger Bastin.
'The line is closed for 12 months - then new track will be laid on old-fashioned ballast, ' said Bastin. 'If the will was there, this would have been the perfect site to try out the latest trackbed technologies.'
Slabtrack systems where concrete slabs replace the ballasted track bed were first introduced to the UK in 2002 (NCE 14 March 2002).
Insitu concrete slabtrack systems are claimed to offer a 50% saving in whole life costs through reduced maintenance bills. But the uptake has been held back by the length of time the track must remain out of service while the concrete gains strength.
Interest is now growing in using asphalt as an alternative to concrete slabs as it bridges the gap between the two technologies.
Asphalt trackbed systems are claimed to be much quicker to lay, making them more suited to upgrading existing track than concrete slabtrack.
On Germany's Heilingenberg tunnel a modified road paver was used to produce the trackbed and sleepers were laid, rails fixed and the whole track ready to use after a total of two days.
Network Rail said it had no plans for any trials with asphalt trackbed, although it would be monitoring progress in Europe.