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Railings, Walkways, Platforms and Stairs in Corrosive Environments

Safety is the first consideration when designing handrails, walkways, platforms and stairs. They should also require little or no maintenance, and when the application is not industrial, be aesthetically pleasing. Stainless steel has always been a popular choice because it provides high strength, design flexibility, durability and wear resistance, which is essential for slip-resistant surfaces and structural integrity.

If the correct stainless steel is specified, coatings can be eliminated, avoiding expensive maintenance. This is critical in industrial applications where coating failure can be a source of contamination, such as in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries or where the environment is particularly corrosive such as in water treatment, wood pulp and chemical plants. Exterior applications are also presenting more challenges as the world’s population is increasingly concentrated in coastal zones, rising sea levels are causing more storm surge flooding, and the use of deicing salt is growing.

Advice on specification of common tubular handrail finishes can be obtained in The Construction Specifier article Get a Grip on Stainless Railing Finishes. Specialized finishes are discussed on IMOA’s website.

Type 316 industrial stairs (left photo credit TMR Stainless), Australian coastal swim club stairs (center photo credit Paige Stainless Fabrications) and Japanese subway railing (right photo credit JSSA).

Higher alloyed stainless steels like Type 316 and the even more corrosion- resistant duplex stainless steel 2205 are becoming increasingly common. Fabrication advice for austenitic (i.e. 304/304L, 316/316L, etc.) and duplex (i.e. 2304, 2205, etc.) grades is available for suppliers who are unfamiliar with them.

IMOA’s Site and Design Evaluation System was developed to help decision makers in selecting the correct stainless steel, and there are five case studies related to this topic illustrating use of the system in evaluating real projects around the world.

Queens West Pier, New York, USA

One of these projects is Queens West Pier in New York City, which has Type 316 stainless steel railings, light poles and seating. The railing sections near the shore are splashed at high tide and are exhibiting corrosion staining. A study carried out by IMOA demonstrated that selective use of a more corrosion resistant stainless steel with a smoother surface finish was advisable near the shore in this location to avoid frequent manual cleaning (IMOA case study 10 provides more details).

Case Study 10: New York Pier Railings
English (PDF, 685 K)
Spanish (PDF, 610 K)

Case Studies

Case Study 1: Pittsburgh and Chicago Handrails and Street Furniture
Case Study 5: Hong Kong Building Exteriors and Railings
Case Study 6: Canary Islands Railings and Lampposts
Case Study 9: Australian Costal Fence

Project Examples
Here are a few examples of the many interesting projects around the world:

New York City’s Highline Park is situated on an elevated former railway line. It has become both a major tourist attraction and a popular place for residents to stroll. Type 316 stainless steel was used extensively for railings, stair treads, seating and many other details to provide the low maintenance and durability needed for the project.

(Photo credit Nicole Kinsman)

The Gap in Torndirrup National Park near Albany, Western Australia is a popular tourist destination because of the coastal cliff formations and the spectacular views of the salt spray as waves crash into them. Obtaining a good view was dangerous until the completion of 2205 duplex stainless steel walkways, railings and a platform that extends out over the cliff in early 2016. This more corrosion-resistant alloy was a natural choice due to salt spray exposure and the need for safety, long term durability and a maintenance-free service life.

Four Freedoms Park is a memorial honoring U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in New York City. Corrosion resistant 2205 duplex stainless steel was necessary for the sculptural handrails because coastal storm surges can flood the park with brackish or salt water. The railings needed to be as durable as the massive blocks of granite in this highly-acclaimed new monument which was constructed to last for hundreds of years.

Material longevity and its inherent impact on long-term project sustainability are changing the way buildings are designed. Memorials like the new Four Freedoms Park in New York have to last for hundreds of years. Corrosion resistant 2205 duplex stainless steel was necessary so that the sculptural handrails were as durable as the massive blocks of granite in this highly-acclaimed new monument.

The spectacular Gobbins Coastal Path in Northern Ireland is becoming one of Northern Ireland’s premier attractions. The one kilometer walk along the cliff face has 18 bridges and four staircases. Type 316L (UNS S31603) stainless steel with a bead-blast finish was used because of 50-year design life and the need for low maintenance.

Emergency staircase, Palazzo della Ragione, Milan, Italy
This Euro Inox case study describes the very light weight and attractive stainless steel and glass emergency fire stairway that was added to the Palazzo della Ragione in Milan, Italy, after its restoration.
Glass Walkway in the Basilica of Aquileia, Italy
This Euro Inox case study describes the glass and stainless steel walkway at the Basilica of Aquileia, Italy UNESCO World Heritage site over the 4th century stone mosaic floor.