Recycling Keeps Railroad Ties Off The Landfill Track

St. Louis - The railroads have been working hard to transport waste across the country. But what happens to the waste generated by the railroads?

Currently, 13 million wooden crossties are removed from railroad service each year. More than half are reused in landscaping, fencing, construction, retaining walls and as fuel for utilities and other plants; the rest are landfilled.

To conserve landfill space while turning a profit, several companies have developed innovative uses for the crossties. For example, Wood Waste Energy Inc. (WWE), St. Louis, in cooperation with Norfolk Southern Railroad, Richmond, Va., and Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, grinds the ties to sell as fuel to an electric utility near St. Louis.

One advantage to burning cross-ties is their low moisture content. In addition, because the crossties are creosote-treated, the chips reportedly allow the boiler fire to burn at a higher temperature than for untreated wood chips. For example, the treated wood fire reportedly generates power of approximately 7,000 Btu, compared to 4,000 to 6,000 Btu for untreated wood. Further, the treated wood chips reportedly leave behind less residue compared to untreated chips.

In Provo, Utah, another company is disassembling and reusing a 100-year old, 12-mile-long wooden railroad trestle submerged in the Great Salt Lake. "The wood is chock full of salt, which has essentially preserved [it]," said John Cannon, president of Trestlewood. The wooden trestles, composed of Douglas fir and redwood timbers, have been sold for use as pilings, telephone poles, retaining walls, house logs, siding, architectural elements and crib blocks for underground coal mines.