Railroad wheels, to recycle or not to recycle? That is the question.

railroad wheels

You are the proud owner of those old, majestic railroad wheels that have rolled their last railcar and retired from the rails. A wheel inspection has condemned them, and their days as proud railroad wheels are numbered. Now, they’re destined to bring you one last payload as they roll into the scrap metal yard — or are they? You’re thinking about restoring and reusing them, but which wheels can you restore, and which ones are you better off recycling?

Identify your scrap wheels or risk the wrath of the railroad

The American Railroad Association (ARA) has instituted safety regulations prohibiting some railway wheels from reuse. Historically, wheels have consisted exclusively of iron and steel, but in the past 10 years, manufacturers have built wheels containing silicon and manganese. Wheels with certain metal compositions tend to fall apart quickly and fall prey to Rolling Contact Fatigue (RCF), a phenomenon you may already know all too well. RCF destroys rails and railway wheels far more quickly than normal wear and tear does. For perspective, many wheels last for decades, while wheels that suffer from RCF can break down in a handful of years and endanger their cargo and passengers. The ARA has banned the reuse of certain wheels to ensure that only the strongest and most RCF-resistant ones ride the rails. Wheel regulations may directly impact your ability to reuse the wheels in your rail yard, so have them properly identified before you invest in restoring them.

Get the most value out of your scrap railroad wheels (and scrap rail and railcar parts)

We advise properly identifying your wheels and making sure you can’t reuse them before you scrap them. In fact, we recommend taking a step back and properly identifying all of your railroad scrap metal before scrapping it. A quality scrap rail recycler can determine which railroad wheels you can and can’t reuse. If you’re recycling your railroad wheels, rails or any other railcar parts, it’s vital to work with experts in rail-related recycling. Different railcar parts command different scrap prices, and recyclers classify rail in a variety of scrap metal categories. Properly identifying them is essential to getting the highest possible value for them. You don’t want to sell them all for the same price and lose money.

What are your scrap railroad wheels worth?

You’re doing your due diligence and researching the value of your scrap wheels. So, how much are they worth? In short, they’re worth a lot, as far as scrap metal goes. Scrap metal is a commodity, and scrap metal prices constantly fluctuate based on many factors, including energy costs, the overall direction of the economy and scrap metal supply and demand. Railroad wheels hold especially high scrap value because metal mills use them as a key ingredient in their re-melting process. They consist primarily of iron and steel, have consistent chemistry and hold a high weight density, making them indispensable to metal mills. At Alton Materials, we sell wheels to mills that manufacture carbon and alloy steel bars, rods and wire products. Any mill that re-melts steel will purchase railroad wheels, so we can always offer a good price for them.

Protect the value of your scrap railroad wheels

To properly recycle your railroad wheels, make sure you transport them delicately. If they lack sufficient padding and bounce around during transit, wheels can suffer damage and lose value while scarring the rail car or truck carrying them. Though they’re sturdy, railway wheels can still take a beating when improperly transported. Using an expert in railcar dismantling and rail recycling will ensure you get the most value out of your wheels. We make it a priority to handle the logistics as carefully as possible.

Once your scrap railroad wheels have made it to a rail recycling company, their next stop is the metal mill, where they will be melted down and reformed back into useful products. To get the best value out of your wheels, test them to see if they are still good, have them properly identified by an expert in wheel recycling, and have them carefully transported to the scrap rail recycler of your choice.

If you have a collection of rail scrap and want to learn how to get the most out of it, click below and download our rail scrap management guide or request a free rail scrap assessment.

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