The importance of innovation and carbon efficiency for the rail industry


The importance of innovation and carbon efficiency for the rail industry

Rail products have evolved at an extraordinary rate in recent years, with the need for innovation fuelled by demands for increased performance and efficiency, alongside legislative changes, and a continued commitment to achieving more sustainable solutions. 

Here, Neil Cross, National Sales Manager for Anderton Concrete, explores how new technologies are supporting the rail industry in achieving safe and secure railways with extended longevity and durability through the installation of resilient solutions that also support net zero ambitions.

As the world’s first major economy to set a target of being net zero by 2050, the UK is accelerating its commitment to attaining a sustainable future for all, with the rail industry playing a critical part in its success. The Scottish Government’s target to decarbonise domestic passenger rail services by 2035, in addition to the Department for Transport’s challenge for the UK’s rail industry to remove all diesel-only trains by 2040, are key drivers for the decarbonisation of the rail industry.

Developing lower carbon products lies at the centre of achieving a more sustainable future, with the demand and need for environmentally efficient rail technologies involving every aspect of the industry, from stations and platforms, right through to lineside equipment and rail engines themselves. Achieving a net zero rail industry is a high priority for the sector, with efforts to reduce carbon emissions being rapidly accelerated through continued product innovation.

However, while manufacturing products with lower embodied carbon, without compromising on quality, cost and efficiency is a priority, there are additional factors pushing the continued requirement for product evolution. By partnering with manufacturers to collaborate on the design, installation, and maintenance of a new generation of rail products that place quality and performance at their core, rail professionals can meet the most demanding site specifications, whilst simultaneously setting a new standard throughout the industry.

Advancements in rail technology

For example, precast concrete cable protection products are popular throughout the sector due to their low lifetime cost, non-combustible properties, and unrivalled resilience. However, the material may be perceived by some as being potentially carbon heavy, due to its production processes.

In response to this, Anderton Concrete has been proactively working with industry partners to push the expectations and boundaries of precast concrete solutions by producing products that feature significantly reduced carbon and have a lower overall weight. This includes the development of its new “Eco Trough” range, which will successfully reduce the overall weight of its C/1/9 Trough to just 21kg, bringing it well under the advised 25kg ‘one man lift’ limit. 

This not only significantly reduces manual handling concerns and streamlines the installation stages to effectively minimise potential risk to engineers when installing the troughing, it also supports rail providers in successfully achieving a more carbon efficient installation that paves the way for a net zero future.

As part of this commitment, Anderton Concrete has reduced the embedded carbon by at least 40% by removing a proportion of the troughing’s mass and by incorporating alternative materials into the manufacturing process. All of this has been achieved while maintaining the desired resilience and non-combustible properties associated with precast concrete troughing. 

Working with a leading industry partner, it has also recently reduced the embodied carbon in its platform copings by a substantial 40%, having been approached and asked to investigate ways of achieving a more environmentally efficient construction.

However, sourcing more sustainable ingredients and utilising new technologies are not the only outlet that manufacturers are utilising to construct products that reflect latest industry demands. 

Offsite construction, having grown in popularity over recent years throughout all aspects of construction, presents a further opportunity for the rail industry to reduce materials waste and improve resource and cost efficiencies. For example, with regard to concrete in particular, the installation of precast concrete rail products over casting the concrete on site offers rail providers impressive time and cost benefits, as less time is needed to develop the product on site and the costs associated with that process are nullified. 

Furthermore, the risks of working lineside, in artificial lighting and against stringent project timings are all eased, ensuring safer working environments for installation teams. Product consistency can also be successfully assured across the entire project, with each concrete product identical to the next.

An additional benefit of precast manufacturing by a UK supplier is that an entirely fluid and bespoke offering that meets individual project requirements can be achieved in the most effective way and in the shortest lead times possible in comparison to imported rail infrastructure materials. 

The importance of partnerships

By taking a proactive approach to the manufacturing processes and identifying new materials that work to actively reduce the embodied carbon within concrete rail products, without having a negative impact on its performance, professionals are paving a future to a net zero rail industry. 

Carbon reduction, resource efficiency and systemisation are just three of the key considerations that manufacturers, rail owners and contractors are together focusing on moving forwards. 

Anderton Concrete approaches its new product development using these methods, and is committed to continually enhancing its portfolio to strengthen its market leading position by providing the industry with a complete suite of durable systems that are lower in weight and feature lower embodied carbon to successfully support net zero targets, whilst meeting additional industry issues, such as continued cable theft. 

With the capacity to produce products up to 10tonnes in weight at its Cheshire-based headquarters, its engineering experts work in partnership with rail providers throughout each stage of the design and construction processes to create large volumes of bespoke products that can be on site in the shortest timescales possible. 

By collaborating as an industry to invest in trials, testing, equipment and people resources, strong partnerships have been forged across the industry, with knowledge, passion and expertise being continuously shared to support manufacturers in bringing to market high quality, safe, efficient, and sustainable rail solutions.

Anderton Concrete believes this is just the beginning for the industry, and as the government continues to place the industry at the centre of its 2050 net zero ambitions, rail professionals can successfully increase the environmental efficiency of their projects by working in close collaboration with manufacturers to research and develop innovation solutions that successfully reduce carbon output, whilst providing unrivalled performance and meeting latest industry challenges.

For further information on Anderton Concrete’s standard and bespoke manufacturing capabilities and market leading offering, please visit: or call 0333 234 3434.