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Toledo Free Press: Toledo man patents more durable synthetic railroad tie
Friday 20 Jun 2008, 04:10
Filed under: NCRA, Railroad

By John Krudy
Toledo Free Press Staff Writer

A Toledo resident has created and patented a design for a plastic composite railroad tie.

John Marinelli spent his career flying as a naval aviator and corporate pilot before entering the recycling industry after he retired. Intrigued by the industrial application of recycled plastics, he began work on a plastic bridge abutment, but abandoned the project to design the railroad tie.

“I thought it was more practical, and would sell well,” Marinelli said.

Marinelli began work on the Composi-Tie in 1999, and finished it in two years. Since then, he has tested, revamped and marketed the design, which received a patent in 2001.

“I didn’t need an attorney,” he said. “Got it all done myself.”

The heavy and hard black tie is not the first of its kind; other companies have already begun using rail ties made of materials similar to Marinelli’s mix of shredded milk jugs, ground tires, chopped fiberglass and a reinforcing twine that runs through the tie. The true invention is the tie’s shape. The plastic tie is the same size as a wooden one, but it has extended edges on the top and bottom, which make it look like an I-beam with a thick inner section.

Those edges, Marinelli said, help the tie keep still within the chipped rocks of the railroad bed, called ballast. That gives the train a steadier track and smoother ride.

A study provided by Rex Crick, vice president of Recycle Technologies International Inc., another composite tie company, shows that plastic ties retain significantly higher strength over time than wood ties, possess greater resistance to electrical current and keep an exceptional amount of strength over time in tie-insertion tests, which railroad engineers use to determine how well a tie holds a rail spike.

While plastic ties cost more than wooden ones ($85 instead of $45), they wear less and are believed to last more than 50 years, rather than the five to 20 years companies can expect from a wood tie susceptible to rotting, bugs and moisture. Plastic ties won’t contaminate groundwater with pollutants such as the creosote preservative that leaks from wooden ties. And at the end of their time in the ground, plastic ties can be melted down and used again.

“Wooden ties are hazardous; half the trouble is trashing them,” Marinelli said.

Marinelli said he is talking to three or four companies about manufacturing his design. He estimates it would take five or six months to set up a production line.

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