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Geology/Track Ballast - Alternative Materials.


Dear Joel

Which could be the alternative materials which can be used / tried out instead of Ballast or crushing stones ?. viz Cement, plaster of Paris, sand, coal, metal, non metals etc for railway tracks ?.

If we create a Word Document having a table consisting of the columns Materials,Advantages,Disadvantages and Conclusion,
Can this be a Good reference document for evaluation ?.

Awaiting your reply,

Thanks & Regards,
Prashant S Akerkar

Anything that you produce may be of assistance but there are two or three important items that any theoretic chart is going to miss.  Some of these missing criteria are the location, quality/specifications, quantity/reserves, impurities.  I could make a chart about any theoretic deposit; but I can assure you this will not get you in the door.

Location is important because of the transportation cost.  A lot of good deposits (particularly aggregate & ballast) have never been mined because of location; it costs too much to transport inexpensive materials.  I am going to give you an example.  About 15 years or so ago Burlington Northern (major RR in the intermountain west and the west) owned a company named Meridian Aggregates Company.  Meridian started out as a company to mine ballast for the RR but morphed into an aggregate company with products for sale. When the company that I worked for did the appraisal of Meridian for Martin-Marietta there were 25 aggregates production facilities and seven rail-served distribution yards in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Minnesota, Wyoming, Montana, Washington and California.  See link:  All of the ballast facilities were on the RR; these were the ones in Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wyoming, Montana, and Washington.  The others may have produced some ballast (I don’t remember) but because of their location they were more for-sale aggregate.  The point is, location is important, particularly for aggregate & ballast.  Much of Nevada is not very accessible to rail and the cost of transportation increases dramatically if it has to be trucked.   This cost can very easily kick you out of the market.

Quality is important.  Aggregate is not aggregate unless it meets the required specs.  Again I will give you an example.  In the entire state of West Virginia there is only one aggregate deposit that will meet the specs for the surface coating (about one inch) for interstate highways.  Unless you have some quality analysis, of the deposit itself, and these need to be done by a competent professional, or no one is going to look at the deposit.  If you go out and take samples and the quality is good the weight given by any mining company is not going to be half as high as if a professional takes the same deposits.  The reason behind this is that there are certain criteria required for testing.  These testing requirements are identified in the ASTM (American Society of Testing & Materials) and there are bunches.  Even if you took the samples and “supposedly” followed the ASTM standards, your analyses would still not have the weight of a Professional taking the samples; just the way it is.

Reserves are important. Chalcedony is a cryptocrystalline silica generally deposited as botryoidal irregular to massive in cavities and fracture fillings.  In essence this means that chalcedony is generally a deposit in cavities and fissure fills and is therefore not very thick.  If you take a surface sample, where the chalcedony is only a few inches thick, it is meaningless, because no company is going to invest in a deposit where there are no substantial and proven reserves.

Impurities are important.  Even traces (2 or 3 parts per million) can be a problem given what the product is to be used for.  Another example; I was hired to do a drilling program at Glass Rock Road, Glenford, OH.  My main objective was to look at cutting from the drilling program to determine tract element contamination.  If I could see traces of Mercury or Iron in the sample the area would be excluded from consideration for mining.  This sand was extremely pure sand (+99% SiO2) used to make glasses, crystal, and other very pure glass but less than 1% contaminates killed the area.  


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Joe Norris


I am an economic geologist. An economic geologist does mineral evaluations and appraisals of mineral or mining properties. I can tell you if your deposit has value - remember that a mineral deposit, no matter how good, only has value when mined. Any value assigned to a mineral deposit, in the ground, is only the speculative value that deposit.


I have been a economic geologist for most of my 35 year career. Although I have done work in perhaps 45 states and numerious countries much of my work has been in Appalachian coal, intermountain west gold and silver, and Arizona uranium.

Past President of the Virginia Section of the American Institute of Professional Geologists and a certified geologist in twelve states.

BS Degree from Eastern Kentucky University. Work on MS Degree @ Eastern Kentucky University, Colorad School of Mines & Marshall University Numerious short courses on the value of mineral deposits and how to value same. Also several short courses dealing with the different types of geologic processes; sedimentary, igneous, metamorphic along with the mineral associated with each.

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