Excess Materials Exchange

Case Study: Circular opportunities in railway tracks  


June 4, 2020




In this series of articles we highlight some of the companies that took part in our pilot program and the results of our matchmaking services. For the full report, follow this link.


ProRail has the crucial task of maintaining the Dutch railway network, which they have been doing since the mid 1800s. They have a lot of resources and locations to manage. At any given day they are working across an average of 150 different locations in The Netherlands. By 2030,  ProRail wants to reuse all its waste in a valuable way. A maximum of 5% should then end up in landfills or incinerators and a minimum of 10% of all excess materials should be reused. On an annual basis ProRail replaces between 200-300 kilometers of railway tracks. That’s a whole lot of railway tracks! EME investigated  what happens to them now and how they can be optimally re-used. 

Current End-of-Life Scenario of railroad tracks

We  started by making a Resources Passport for ProRail’s railway tracks. 54E1-type (R260Mn) railway tracks are the most commonly used railway track in the Netherlands. The steel consists of 18 different elements, and is of high quality and value. With proper maintenance operations, the tracks have an average lifetime of around 40 years. 

In the current end-of-life scenario, around 90% of all tracks are exported to Asia or Turkey for a scrap price of roughly €7,500-8,000 per kilometer. After arriving on location, they are either reused or recycled through a melting process. In rare cases, recovered railway tracks are reused in the Netherlands at industrial sites where lower functional requirements for the tracks are in place. 

Circular match

Based on the results of the Resources Passport analysis, EME identified multiple possible matches. The proposed circular matches were ranked as follows: 

  1. Reusing railway tracks as construction beams in buildings;
  2. Reusing railway tracks as a functional support structure in the shifting water sides of the Amsterdam canals; 
  3. Reusing railway tracks in structures for tourism such as bike racks, information panels, wildlife grids, etc.

Next to finding reuse options, it’s also important to understand the business case and calculate whether or not the options truly do reduce environmental impact. 


Currently, railway tracks are sold for a scrap price of roughly €7,900 per kilometer. If railway tracks were to be reused for consecutive functional purposes, such as construction beams, the financial value would increase significantly. To illustrate, an average steel construction beam is worth €20-€50 per meter. This shows a big potential for new financial revenue streams.


Within this proposed circular match, the parameter Energy use shows the highest impact reduction (79.43%) compared to the current end-of-life scenario. This is primarily due to the fact that in the current scenario the steel is remelted, a process which requires a lot of energy. Carbon emissions also see a reduction, at 79.1% compared to the circular match.

A great method to translate environmental impact into financials is eco-costs. Eco-costs represent the costs associated with prevention of the environmental burden of a product. This burden consists of e.g. environmental pollution, material depletion related to the production, transportation and end-of-life treatment of a product. Right now, the eco-costs are classified as 'external costs', since they are not yet integrated in the current costs of production chains. EME has worked with EY to develop a Total Value method where we add the eco-costs to the financial value, this way the actual costs of a product can be calculated. We’ve done a comparison below.


For ProRail’s railway tracks, the Total Value per railway track is -€6,872 per kilometer. Although there is a small business case for scrap metal for ProRail, there’s a high eco-costs associated with the remelting of scrap metal due to the energy required. In comparison, the Total Value for the re-use of railway tracks is €40,903 per kilometer of railroad track. This is a significant increase in Total Value of €34,031 per kilometer.

Key takeaways

EMEs analysis shows there are plenty of alternative high value destinations for railway tracks, among others as support beams in the construction sector. These new destinations significantly improve the financial business case and reduce the environmental impact. Besides railway tracks ProRail uses many more materials to maintain and expand the Dutch railway system. In order to realise their circular goals and optimize their material use  ProRail will be implementing EME’s Internal Marketplace. We are happy  to work with such an ambitious organisation and hope that more organisations will join us in the transition towards a circular economy.

Curious about our 4D Matchmaking service, or want to implement your own digital marketplace to exchange materials and products? Contact us at info@excessmaterialsexchange.com or explore our services at: www.excessmaterialsexchange.com




Excess Materials Exchange (EME) is a young and innovative technology company. On our digital matching platform, we find new high-value reuse options for materials or (waste) products for companies. We believe that far too many valuable resources and materials are wasted or ill-designed in the current paradigm, for which the planet must pay a heavy price. Isn’t that a waste? EME is determined to accelerate the global transition to a circular economy – and play a part in creating a more viable planet. By showing the financial and ecological value of materials. By challenging companies to design and produce their goods in a more efficient and circular manner. And by making matches. A whole lot of matches.