Green tie makeover on the tracks

LEBANON, Ore. -- They look rusty and beat up, but the new railroad ties in Lebanon are being called green ties for receiving an advanced chemical treatment.

Albany & Eastern Railroad Company contractor Mark Russell said the stretch of tracks his crew has been working from Lebanon to Sweet Home has needed maintenance for some time.

"What's happening is they're going through one time and doing one side," said Russell at the railroad tracks in Lebanon on Monday, "and then they go back and do some more."

After pulling out old ties, some dating back to the 1920's, Russell said the inserter machine puts the new green ties in their place.

The old railroad ties were treated with the chemical preservative creosote, made from petroleum-based products.

"So, it's got a heavy tar that tends to leech out and get into the water system," said Russell as he stood in front of a pile of a dozen or so creosote-soaked railroad ties.

The new green ties are treated with a different chemical, called chemonitemade from zinc, copper and arsenate.

Russell said the old ties needed to be removed for safety reasons, but added that the green ties have some added benefits.

"This chemical doesn't have any of the arsenic qualities, and it doesn't have the petroleum base either," said Russell.

Tests on the functionality and environmental impacts of green ties are underway at Oregon State University.

KVAL News talked with OSU wood science professor Dr. Jeff Morrell over the phone on Monday and asked whether green ties are more eco friendly.

Dr. Morrell said the term green tie is somewhat misleading because both creosote and chemonite treated railroad ties have potentially harmful effects on the natural world.

Morrell added that functionality tests have been positive so far on ties treated with chemonite. He also said it looks to be more cost effective for the railroad in the long run.

Russell said he believes that the ties are more environmentally sound, and he said that is only one of many added benefits.

"These ties came from Oregon trees," said Russell. "They were logged in the woods by Oregon loggers. They were milled by a mill in Oregon. They were treated in Oregon. Of course, they were transported by Oregonians. And now they're being installed by Oregon crews for and Oregon railroad."