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2018 Railroad Tie Survey

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Document pages: 11 pages

Abstract: This article reports results of a survey of railroad tie management conducted by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reflecting 2017 practices. Similar surveys were previously conducted for 2013 and 2008 practices. North American railroads purchase approximately 23 million new wood crossties annually. Most ties are used to replace worn ties. Through this survey, the AAR seeks to provide clarity to its member railroads, the regulators, and other interested parties, regarding how the railroads’ tie purchase preferences and used tie management choices have been changing in response to changing technologies and regulations. Technology changes include use of borate preservatives to dual-treat wood ties to provide longer service life in high decay environments, non-wood ties made of concrete or plastic, and energy conversion methods for used ties such as gasification and torrefaction. Passage of the EPA Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials (NHSM) rule in 2011, including updates in 2013, 2016, and 2018, is reducing the potential for recycling used ties as fuel. However, the EPA is also promoting use of biological materials, such as wood, to produce energy without increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere, thus reducing human caused climate change. Purchase and tie management trends are indicated by the survey results. Approximately 95 of all ties purchased are preservative-treated wood. Due to demonstrated longer service life in high decay zones for wood ties that are dual treated with borate and either creosote or copper naphthenate, the fraction of concrete and plastic tie purchases has decreased while the faction of dual treated wood tie purchases has increased. Recycling used ties for energy remains the most common practice, at 66 of ties, but has declined from 81 in 2013. Reuse of ties for other treated wood uses, such as landscape and agricultural type purposes, remains common at approximately 18 . Landfill disposal remains uncommon, but seems to be increasing at 6 of removed ties. The shift away from recycling for energy is thought to result from the both impact of the EPA NHSM rule and the low cost of natural gas. The smaller market tie users, mainly the short line railroads in contrast to the Class 1 railroads, manage far fewer ties per company, but purchase and manage approximately 31 of all ties. The short lines recycle to landscape and agricultural uses at about half the rate of the Class 1s and dispose in landfills at a much higher rate of 76 versus 1.2 for the Class 1s. This difference is thought to result from the economics and availability of local versus distant management options.

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