Phototheque VEOLIA - Jean-Marie Ramès

Recycling all the way down ... the RER A

Posted on 13 September 2016.

The RATP has entrusted Veolia with dismantling 317 RER A carriages at the end of their service life. To meet the challenge, the Group has built a unique processing unit in France.

90% of materials composing carriages can be reused

Have you ever wondered what happens to old subway and train carriages? In the USA, old New York subway carriages are sent to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean to create artificial reefs and promote the development of underwater species. However, most of the time, carriages are simply dismantled at the end of their service life.

Dismantling: a real environmental issue

The dismantling of so-called ‘rolling stock’ is an environmental issue and a real technical challenge today. The operation allows large quantities of raw materials such as steel, copper or aluminum to be recycled but it requires a complex chain of expertise to be controlled: logistics, deconstruction, asbestos removal, recovery of recyclable materials, processing of non-recyclable waste, sale of secondary raw materials, etc.

Veolia can provide all of these services. That is why the RATP entrusted it with dismantling and recycling old RER A carriages, which is the busiest line of the Paris region (and Europe). It entrusted it with removing asbestos from and dismantling no less than 317 carriages over a period of four years, from 2013 to 2017.

To meet this challenge, Veolia built a clean room under negative pressure to process asbestos in total confinement and avoid particle dispersion. This is an essential prerequisite for recovering materials safely. This platform, based in Torvilliers, near Troyes in the Aube, is also considered a "reference unit" by the Government departments in charge of controlling the facilities.

97% of materials composing RER A carriages can be recycled

The dismantling process consists of several major steps. Once transported to the site by special convoy, each carriage is cleared of furniture items (lamps, benches, steps, etc.) and then moved to the clean room for asbestos removal. After taking the necessary precautions, remediation begins. The carriages are stripped and the water used in this process is collected and filtered to be reused in a closed loop to strip the following carriages. Finally, the carcass of the carriage is cut up and the various component materials are sorted and sold on: the steel is sold to the steel industry, non-ferrous metals (copper, stainless steel, aluminum) to refiners and the rest of the materials (including glass) is sent to recycling sectors.

In all, 97% of the materials composing carriages can be reused, of which 85% is steel, 10% non-ferrous metals and 2% is other materials. Over the term of the contract, this solution will avoid the emission of 20,549 tons of CO2.