: ProRail asks market for solutions for railway dust

ProRail is asking innovative companies to come up with innovative solutions to combat dust formation during work on the track. ProRail's ambition is to protect railway workers from exposure to inhalable and respirable dust. The main objective of this innovation call is to find innovative solutions to further reduce or even eliminate the release of dust that can be inhaled and end up in your lungs.

Responsibility ProRail

ProRail is responsible for the rail network in the Netherlands: its construction, maintenance, management and safety. Every day, employees ensure that 1.2 million passengers and a hundred thousand tonnes of goods reach their destination, carried on more than 6,500 trains using over 7,000 kilometres of track. ProRail distributes the capacity on the rails, regulates all train traffic, builds and manages stations and lays new track. ProRail also maintains existing infrastructure such as tracks ,switches, signals, level crossings and noise barriers.

Most of those 7,000 kilometres of track has ballast stone under the rails. These stones - called ‘railway ballast’ - provide stability, dampen vibrations and help drain off excess rainwater. The Netherlands needs about 500,000 tonnes of ballast per year for track renewal and/or replacement. ProRail currently obtains the ballast mainly from stone quarries in Belgium and Norway.

Respirable dust

Transporting and processing these stones always produces dust. Some particles are so small that they can cause health problems when inhaled. High concentrations of this so-called respirable dust and long-term exposure can cause serious lung problems.

Quartz

Quartz dust may be part of this respirable dust. At present, the Dutch railways mainly use ballast containing quartz. Quartz is one of the most common minerals in the earth's crust. Both sand and granite consist largely of quartz. Respirable quartz dust can be carcinogenic. The dust from quartz-containing ballast thus constitutes a specific risk of serious health problems when processing quartz-containing ballast. This is why ProRail considers it extremely important that all dust generated during ballast work and/or exploitation be prevented as much as possible, or remain below the limit values for exposure.

Safe working conditions

As principal and employer in the railway industry, ProRail wants to facilitate healthy and safe working conditions. Together with the railway industry, all kinds of measures have therefore been introduced in recent years to reduce the risk of dust exposure. Dust formation is limited by keeping ballast wet and exposure to the dust is currently limited by, among other things, the mandatory use of dust masks, machines with overpressure cabins and filters that keep the dust out.

To do even more, in order to guarantee the health of the railway workers, ProRail is calling on the market to contribute ideas in this respect. In other words, ProRail is looking for innovative solutions to reduce or eliminate dust even further.

Call for innovations that contribute to dust-free tracks

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