Heading for Environmental Protection Technologies
Headquartered in Szeged, G&G Plant Protection and Trading Ltd. has been providing weed control services since 1992. The firm introduced its environment friendly solution with great success along the rails, in Hungary and abroad. Why is weed control so important?
– Overgrowth could cause severe damage to railways. Inclusions tend to form in the weed-grown track ballast with the accumulation of organic substances limiting the flexibility the ballast bed should provide. This leads to the weakening and creeping of the substructure. If weed grows higher than the head of the rails, it may even considerably reduce the braking efficiency of trains. Moreover, dry weed is a fire hazard during periods of draught, and the weed coverage of trackside ditches hinders drainage. Admittedly, weed control along the tracks is an important part of track maintenance, which in turn is a basic condition for safe traffic.
Are there any alternatives to spraying with chemicals for removing weeds?
– Supply in weed killing is limited to mechanical (i.e. manual) and chemical weed control. There have been experiments with other methods but they failed, such as singeing, which carries a major fire hazard. With extensive railway networks, however, chemical weed control is the only way. But even chemical control solutions show tremendous differences. Several methods are in use in the EU as well, ranging from the manual spreading of chemical substances through the use of simple spray guns from various vehicles to weed control with partially automated spraying equipment. The traditional method of spraying covers the full width of tracks with significant volumes of chemical, which incurs unnecessary environmental load and costs. Outdated chemicals may penetrate ground water and pollute the waters, and harm the flora and fauna in the vicinity of railway tracks. G&G’s patented weed control technology reduces the volume of chemical used in weed control substantially. Our solution, the Weed Recognition System identifies weed spots and the rate of weed growth. Then the equipment targets the weed spots and sprays only when it passes over them. We can spray four different types of chemical in doses corresponding to the type of weed. This automated method managed to save 60-80% of chemical and water use, which helps protect both our environment and the health of our employees.
Where do you use this truly economical and environmentally friendly method?
– Our contract with MÁV dates back to 1996. We had been using a train purchased from MÁV for weed control along 60-70% of the lines. The first weed recognition tests were performed during 1998–1999. We have been using a more cost efficient, almost fully automated, easy-to-use eco-friendly spraying system to provide weed control services in Hungary since 2000. We applied the upgraded train and methodology in Austria between 2006 and 2010. It was in 2008 that we delivered the first spraying train to a UK customer who provided weed control services in Belgium and Denmark. In June 2008 our weed control train was also introduced at a conference on environmental protection hosted by the European Parliament in Brussels where topics related to railway safety and environmental issues of railway weed control were discussed. At the event, the focus was on our weed control train and our truck mounted automatic spraying unit for station and industrial sidetrack application. The latter is a small, flexible and versatile unit, which can be easily shipped even to overseas customers.
How do you decide when to use a certain type of chemical?
– The dosage and spraying of chemicals is fully automated. Our Weed Recognition System ensures optimum chemical use by identifying and mapping weed growth. The tracks are observed by a camera, and the signal processing system selects the area to be treated. The control software gives instructions to the system and the designated sections are sprayed according to the set doses. Due to the system only the weed covered areas are treated. Based on the processed data, a weed map is generated with GPS data, dates, start and end times of spraying, the covered distance in meters and the weed coverage of the complete section in percentage and in square meters.
Your innovations also include a containerised spraying unit. What advantages does this development offer?
– We have developed these products in response to market requirements. We would like to integrate our weed control system into a container, which is easy to carry and licence, instead of a train, which is more difficult to move around. That would allow the use of our unique system along non-UIC gauge tracks as well. Keeping the benefits of the technology, we have created a container unit for flexible application at stations, industrial sidetracks, and along open tracks. The unit is designed to spray along a 10 m wide band at 40–60 km/h speed in normal operating mode and along a band of 8 m on both sides at stations with 7 km/h speed, exactly like our weed control train. The parts of the chemical service unit are made of corrosion resistant materials, the hydraulic system has corrosion-proof containers, piping, parts, and special quality sealing materials tested in-house. Our containers can be mounted on all types of flat wagons, are easy to fit and to prepare for application, hence flat wagons used for weed control purposes are able to perform alternative services during other periods of the year. If a wagon used for carrying a weed control unit fails, the container will be lifted onto another wagon and work may continue. With size kept standard, units can be stored easily outside the railway system. We receive support for the implementation of this development project from the EU, as well as from the Government of Hungary by means of the New Széchenyi Plan.
Are there any new development plans?
– We have plenty of ideas, and an energetic team of innovative and highly skilled engineers is responsible for the development projects. We have set ourselves the goal to apply chemicals in proper quantity and ratio in a targeted manner, taking into account the specific features of extremely resistant weed varieties found along railway tracks. We have also received support for that project from the funds managed by the New Széchenyi Plan and have used the money to purchase the special camera, optical processing unit and a high precision GPS necessary for the tests. As part of upgrading our method, we wish to reduce environmental load, and as a long term goal, we seek to apply our procedure to agriculture too.•