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For more than 100 years, timber sleepers have carried locomotives along the West Coast but that will soon change thanks to modern approach to railway renewal.
The West Coast Wilderness Railway wants to switch to "composite sleepers" made from recycled and repurposed plastics.
Every kilometre of railway using the non-toxic alternative is estimated to save around 154.5 tonnes of plastic and thousands of trees.
Railway general manager Anthony Brown said the composite sleepers would also last much longer than timber, with a lifespan of 40 to 50 years.
"The environment wasn't a big issue back when the railway and the mines started 120 years ago but we're in a society now where the railway needs to give back and play its part," he said.
"What we're doing is taking out a number of plastic bottles that would've end up in the ocean ... and we're actually reducing our carbon footprint.
"I won't be here when the sleepers need to be replaced but I'd like to think I've done my job and set the state and country up with a tourist product that will last for generations to come."
NEW MATERIAL: The composite sleepers have been tested at Lynchford Station to see if they were suitable for the rest of the line. Picture: Supplied
The West Coast Wilderness Railway is testing how the composite sleepers perform at a turnout at Lynchford Station and is awaiting results from a Monash University study.
The new sleepers will then be rolled out along a 10 kilometre stretch of rail that needs to be replaced between Dubbil Barril and Lowana.
The job is expected to be done by the end of September and would equate to saving around 7.5 million plastics bottles and 7.5 million plastic bags.
Mr Brown said the railway hoped to eventually use composite sleepers across the entire line, depending on how they performed on the initial 10 kilometre stretch.
The West Coast Wilderness Railway last year received a $16 million funding deal from the state government to upgrade its track, bridges and locomotives.
The railway also plans to build a light-up shed at its workshops and a new turning circle at Queenstown.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced the railway to shut down but Mr Brown hoped to be welcoming back passengers soon.
"We hope to see the railway back up and running mid September, however, there's a lot of challenges we need to come through," Mr Brown said.
This article first appeared on www.theadvocate.com.au
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