On 14 and 15 October, the UIC Expert Group on Polluted Soils and Remediation held a two-day seminar in Riga, the capital of Latvia. The meeting was hosted by Latvijas Dzelzceļš (LDZ, Latvian Railways). Almost 50 participants from various European railways were welcomed by Mr. Măris Riekstiņŝ, LDZ Director of Development.
In his opening statement Mr. Riekstiņŝ gave an overview of the developments LDZ is undergoing, as well as the difficulties it is encountering. One of these is the question of contaminated soils on railway property. He welcomed the opportunity to cooperate closely with UIC and with individual railways, more specifically the chance to exchange information and experiences.
Since 2007, the UIC Expert Group on Polluted Soils and Remediation has actively sought to place polluted soils on the railways’ agenda. Furthermore, the objective of the Expert Group is to promote the exchange of specific know-how in this field. One of the main objectives of the meeting in Riga was to draw attention to the potential impact of soil pollution, not only on train operations but also on companies’ financial position and reputation in society.
Polluted soils are as old as the railways themselves. Most of the pollution we face nowadays has its roots in the steam age. In those days railways, like any other business at that time, paid scant regard to the potential consequences on the ecological environment of dumping oil and waste. Nowadays we know better and, although the majority of railway companies have taken action to remediate the most urgent sites and prevent further contamination, there still are huge problems. These problems occur when railway land has to be transferred to new owners or when the land is set to be used for other purposes.
At the meeting in Riga, participants received input from several points of view.
First the governmental perspective, in which legislation and policy implementation were highlighted by Mr. Roland Bebris (Latvian Ministry of the Environment) and Mr. Ton Honders (Dutch Ministry of the Environment). The consequences of legislation and an overall risk management approach were also presented by the Dutch government.
In a meeting like this, the financial perspective is a vital consideration. Polluted soils can be part of corporate property and it is clear that the possession of such property can represent a high risk, with significant negative effects on the financial position of the company. Based on their respective experiences, Mr. Bertil Grundfelt and Mr. Erhard Robold (both consultants in this field) clearly showed the audience how to deal with the involved risks.
The afternoon session focused mainly on the sharing of best practices. Three cases were presented by:
- Mr. Mads Dige Toft, RAMBØLL (Banedanmark), who highlighted the typical practical issues of handling polluted soil that are associated with both project planning and project execution.
- Ms. Patrizia Gregori (SNCF), who presented SNCF’s 2008 – 2015 programme to improve and renew the fuel filling installations on the rail network, while simultaneously remediating contaminated sites for a total cost of € 60 million.
- Ms. Inăra Krumiņa (LDZ) gave an overview of the ongoing work in Daugavpils, which is located in southern Latvia. On this site the groundwater is severely contaminated with diesel and oil from the mass storage facilities and is undergoing remediation.
The last point of view presented concerned the prevention of soil pollution. Mr. Paolo Contestabile, the UIC representative in the InfraGuider project, presented the ambitions and scope of this project to set guidelines for the purchase of sustainable rail infrastructure systems and components. His view was supported by Malin Kotake, who shared with participants some experiences at Trafikverket (Sweden) in this field.
Finally, the meeting ended with a brief look at the future development of UIC’s work in the area of sustainable land use.
The various presentations from the seminar can be downloaded from the UIC homepage, http://www.uic.org/spip.php?article2635
The second day was devoted to a visit to a LDZ rolling stock service point where the filling station has been renewed. The final part of the excursion was a visit to the Latvian Railway History Museum in Riga, where the manager of the museum was presented with the official seminar poster – so if you ever come to Riga and visit the Railway History Museum you may see the poster hanging on the wall.