From 24 – 25 May 2016, the International Railway Association, UIC, held the International Workshop on “Weed control on Railways: What future for herbicides?” at its headquarters. This workshop followed the successful first edition held in October 2013 in Coventry hosted by Network Rail.
This event was organised by the working group UIC Sustainable Land Use Expert Network and focused on the latest issues at European level for the management of herbicides in Railway Vegetation Management.
Over 100 people from 20 different nationalities attended the workshop which was co-organised with SNCF Reseau.
Jean-Pierre Loubionux, UIC Director General, welcomed the participants and provided a key note speech addressing the serious concerns which railway vegetation managers are currently facing: to guarantee the safety of the tracks and signalling equipment and at same time taking into account the question of environmental and health protection, which corresponds to the overall environmental responsibility. He remarked that rail represents the backbone of sustainable transport and that the entire community needs to make every effort to retain this position.
“This is why vegetation control on railway networks is carried out through extremely high standard methods and herbicides are used only where they are vitally necessary and no alternatives exist. Moreover several research efforts on alternatives to herbicide have been investigated and will be presented here during this workshop.”
He finally concluded that sustainability embraces a wide spectrum of technical issues, which are very much related to day-to-day operations, and that is why the workshop is of particular relevance.
Andrea Braschi, Environmental Advisor at UIC, introduced the recent activities of the Sustainable Land Use network and noted that another pillar of the UIC is Standardisation as the basis of the railway as a system. In this sense the Expert Group developed the International Railway Standard on Vegetation Management which is now in its final stage of approval. The new IRS represents a single source of cutting‐edge information on all aspects of vegetation management including detailed advice on sound justification for the continued use of herbicides and state-of-the-art guidance on tree risk management.
The two-day agenda included speeches from major stakeholders including CER, national chemical authorities, environmental egencies and representatives from chemical suppliers.
During Day 1, three sessions were held. Session 1 provided different maintenance overviews and regulatory frameworks from six European infrastructure managers. Session 2 provided a complete regulatory framework. Ethem Pekin, Environmental Economist at CER, provided the European policy overview while Mr Petra Pucelik-Günther from the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety provided the regulatory framework in Germany, the Environment Risk Assessment of molecules. Finally Ms Farwell from FERA presented the Hardspec Model which is a first-tier model for estimating surface water and groundwater exposure resulting from herbicides applied to hard surfaces. It was developed as a collaborative project in the UK involving universities, suppliers and the Environment Agency. In the last session of the day several alternatives to chemical applications were presented by both railway infrastructure companies and universities.
During Day 2 several overviews on recent GIS and geo-referencing technologies were given by different infrastructure managers and subcontractors. In session 6 Mr Christopher Leake, representative from CropLife Association, the association of chemical suppliers, explained the difficulties experienced by chemical firms in getting new molecules patented and reported on the strict environmental risk assessment which the regulatory framework foresees. He also asked for a common table for active collaboration between associations, suppliers and buyers in order to define a Roadmap for the sustainable use of herbicides. The last session provided studies of the impact of herbicides on the environment. Finally Mr Micheal Morin, Director of Track Maintenance at SNCF Reseau concluded the two-day workshop and noted that Vegetation Management is an engineered technique which is wisely undertaken by railway infrastructure managers. However innovation and exchange of best practices need to be encouraged and UIC was praised for organising this event.