How to choose between railway sleepers?
We often get asked a range of questions like:
Which railway sleeper is best? Which one do you recommend for a retaining wall? Which one lasts longest? Which one is the cheapest? Strongest? Lightest? Easiest to cut? Most environmental?
These are not always straightforward questions to answer. It's like ringing up a car dealership and saying 'Which car is best?' Probably they'd reply: What is your budget? What are you using it for? How many seats? Annual mileage? Electric? Colour?
Of course they might also just try and sell you the old crock that they've wanted to be rid of for months, by assuring you that it was a fabulous one-time only offer! Railway sleepers, like cars, have lots of variations!
Here's an attempt to help you compare the different railway sleepers that we stock.
Q. How many types of NEW railway sleepers do we sell?
Although we have dozens of different sizes of new railway sleepers they are all made from either new pine or new oak. New pine railway sleepers come from the UK, whereas the oak railway sleepers come from France, Ukraine or Canada.
TWO TYPES OF NEW RAILWAY SLEEPERS
Q. How many types of USED railway sleepers do we sell?
Although most reclaimed railway sleepers we supply are made of Oak, Pine or Tropical Hardwood, they come in different dimensions, treatments and grades according to the country they've come from, so we classify the 11 types all separately.
ELEVEN TYPES of USED RAILWAY SLEEPERS
Q. What are the cheapest railway sleepers that we sell?
Obviously the cheapest railway sleeper is not always the most suitable for your project, but if you are on a really tight budget then you need to look at the British NEW pine railway sleepers in a smaller thickness and length, e.g. 1.2m or 2.4m x 200mm x 100mm, or the Dutch USED Grade 2-3 oak railway sleepers, or the Belgium USED Grade 2-3 oak railway sleepers.
1) NEW BRITISH PINE railway sleepers
2) USED Grade 2-3 DUTCH OAK railway sleepers
3) USED Grade 2-3 BELGIUM OAK railway sleepers
Q. What are the most durable, longest lasting railway sleepers that we sell?
It is an important question, because we all want to know how long our beautiful railway sleeper project will last! There's nothing more frustrating than spending all your time landscaping your garden and then having to replace it in just a few years. Generally speaking, a) hardwood railway sleepers last longer than softwood ones, b) used tropical hardwood railway sleepers (Azobe & Jarrah) last longer than oak hardwood ones, (of which used creosote treated oak lasts longer than untreated new oak) c) top grade railway sleepers last longer than lower grade ones. So, top grade used Azobe railway sleepers and top grade used Jarrah & tropical hardwood railway sleepers last longest, followed by top grade used Dutch oak creosoted tunnel railway sleepers.
1) USED top grade AZOBE railway sleepers
2) USED top grade JARRAH & TROPICAL HARDWOOD railway sleepers
3) USED top grade DUTCH OAK TUNNEL HARDWOOD railway sleepers
Q. What weight are railway sleepers and what are the lightest ones to lift?
The weight of normal full size original railway sleepers varies enormously, according to the species and age of the tree the railway sleepers were cut from, and the length and thickness of the railway sleeper. Pine railway sleepers are generally lightest (45-60 kilos), Oak railway sleepers are heavier (80-90 kilos), and the Jarrah tropical hardwood railway sleepers (85-95 kilos) & Azobe tropical hardwood railway sleepers (90-110 kilos) are the heaviest.
Bear this in mind when you are ordering your particular size & type of railway sleeper. How do I plan to carry the railway sleepers into position? (e.g. into the back of a garden). You'll need at least two willing & strong people & the serious possibility of bribery: (Bottles of wine), deception: ("They are really light") or emotional blackmail: "Think of all the things I've done for you". Of course this last ditch option may lead to your offspring grumpily replying with "I never asked to be born!", which tends to lead to a collapse in communication, rather than an enthusiastic helper. Alternatively, arrange a RAILWAY SLEEPER MOVING PARTY!
Be careful about lifting. Please be sensible, take special care of your back and always bend your knees etc.. with proper lifting techniques. Normally the worst accidents with railway sleepers are trapped fingers (when one person lifts and the other doesn't) or bruised legs or feet when railway sleepers are dropped on thighs or toes. Thick gloves and protective boots are recommended. (Not sandals!) Likewise it is unwise to move railway sleepers after (or during) a pub crawl. There are different methods and simple contraptions to help carry sleepers into your garden.
CLICK on RAILWAY SLEEPER LIFTING for ideas.
Some railway sleepers CANNOT be offloaded by mere mortals. They are too heavy. In this case you'll need a forklift machine or furloughed Olympic weightlifter. The most successful 2022 World Championship medal winners (in order) were from China, Columbia, Thailand, and Indonesia. The heaviest 'deadlift' weight by a human, according to the Guinness book of records, was in May 2020, by Hafpor Bjornsson, also known as 'The Mountain' in Game of Thrones, who lifted 501 kg. You could try contacting him for help moving your railway sleepers. Probably five in one go!
For those who have no ambition to be a championship power lifter there are thankfully smaller or lighter railway sleepers to choose from that may be much easier to handle:
1) NEW BRITISH PINE railway sleepers
2) NEW OAK railway sleepers
3) USED BELGIUM OAK railway sleepers
Q. What are the longest railway sleepers that we sell?
Even though the most common length for railway sleepers in the world is about 2.6 metres, we do supply LONGER lengths of 3.0m and 3.6m in the NEW British Pine railway sleepers, and 2.8m - 3.9m in the USED extra long oak crossing timbers.
Historically, railway sleepers never had to be exact in length, width or depth for their purpose on the railway track, and so the sawmills were fairly ‘give or take’ in the railway sleepers that they produced. Hence all sizes were approximate. That means that although a railway sleeper may be described as approximately 2600mm in length, or 300mm in width, or 125mm in depth it may in fact be several centimetres longer or shorter, thicker or thinner. So allow some leeway in your precise calculations, and cater for trimming or creativity if necessary. This may be frustrating for those who love exactness in the world, but I guess there are some things in life which we just can't control! As it happens, most landscaping projects have an element of flexibility or tolerance in them and can cope with this.
1) NEW BRITISH PINE railway sleepers
2) USED EXTRA LONG OAK railway sleepers
Q. What are the easiest railway sleepers to cut (or drill)?
In a perfect world you would create your wonderful railway sleeper project with standard railway sleeper lengths that required no cutting. Unfortunately, gardens, walls, steps & patios don't always come in 'off the shelf sizes, and we inevitably have to get out our handsaws, circular saws or chainsaws. Clearly the easiest railway sleepers to cut and drill into are the new British pine, with Azobe and tropical hardwood railway sleepers being the toughest.
1) NEW BRITISH PINE RAILWAY SLEEPERS
Q. What are our railway sleepers treated with (or not)?
We now live in a world where we are more aware of environmental issues and the impact of materials that we use. We want to know what railway sleepers have been treated with (or not) and the impact on both longevity and also the environment. Past treatments to enhance the durability of timber (such as creosote) are no longer used on new timber, as they have been replaced by more environmentally friendly treatments. Some people argue that these new 'friendly' treatments are often less durable, leading to railway sleepers being replaced more often, with additional consequences to the environment. These are the dilemmas!
UNTREATED used & new railway sleepers
USED tropical hardwood and Azobe railway sleepers are naturally long lasting, & hence need no treatment. They were placed untreated on the railway track with an expected lifespan of up to 100 years. Even though a reclaimed railway sleeper is untreated there can occasionally be deposits of oil or diesel on the surface which have fallen from passing trains over the years
NEW oak railway sleepers are also normally supplied and used untreated.
'GREEN' PRESSURE TREATED new railway sleepers
The latest 'environmentally friendly' copper-based pressure treatment for new pine railway sleepers is Tanalith E. For more in depth information on 'green' pressure treatment please visit our TREATMENTS page.
CREOSOTE TREATED used railway sleepers
For more than a century, creosote was used to lengthen the life of timber railway sleepers, as well as fencing, telegraph poles etc.. Hence it was used in the past to treat used Dutch oak railway sleepers, used Belgium oak railway sleepers, used oak crossing railway sleepers and used Dutch X large oak railway sleepers. For more in depth information on creosote treatment please visit our TREATMENTS page.
Q. What are the most 'environmentally friendly' railway sleepers that we sell?
This is a vital but tricky question that we get frequently asked, as people are naturally concerned about the environmental impact we are having on our planet. Polution, global warming, sustainability, carbon footprint etc.. are issues which can no longer be avoided. There are several potential answers depending on how you define 'environmentally friendly' and what weight you give to each aspect of this complicated issue.
Considering the importance of sustainability
ANY RECYCLED used railway sleeper
If you are concerned about depleting resources and sustainability, then recycling used railway sleepers is a huge bonus. They have already valuably served half a century or more on a railway track, and are now, 'in their retirement' being used for decades more in a landscaping or construction setting. No need for further forests to be depleted or the environmental impact of sawmill emissions cutting new timber. A definitel recycling win.
Considering the effect of transport & air polution
USED top grade JARRAH & TROPICAL HARDWOOD railway sleepers or
USED grade 1-2 JARRAH & TROPICAL HARDWOOD railway sleepers or
If you are concerned about the environmental effects of transport & air pollution, then it's important to know where railway sleepers have come from. Buying locally is always better for the environment than buying those that have travelled 1000's of miles from abroad. Reclaimed Jarrah and tropical hardwood railway sleepers were originally installed on UK railway tracks, taken up from UK railway tracks, transported within the UK and recycled for use in UK landscaping projects. A definite air quality bonus.
Considering the effect of chemical pollution
ANY UNTREATED railway sleeper
Chemical pollution can effect the delicate balance of the Earth's ecosystems, and impact on our health. Used tropical hardwood and Azobe railway sleepers were originally produced from naturally long lasting timber, & hence needed no treatment. They were placed untreated on the railway track with an expected lifespan of up to 100 years. Recycling them is a pollution free way of using timber for building and landscaping. A definite chemical free win.
Q. What is the difference between various GRADES of railway sleepers?
Grading railway sleepers is not a precise science! Deciding with certainty what is a top grade, grade 1, grade 2 or grade 3 is inevitably subjective, and there is no universally accepted system of grading, throughout the UK, Europe, or the rest of the Universe. There are so many variables in grading old reclaimed railway sleepers, especially between different types of hardwood and softwood, that it is hard to generalise or make universal statements about different grades of railway sleepers. For example, a grade 2 used British Pine railway sleeper is generally straight, whereas a grade 2 used Dutch oak railway sleeper is often slightly bent! If you were being cynical, you'd probably suspect that railway sleeper companies classify a railway sleeper with as high a grade as they can get away with! But of course, that would be slanderous! Always look at our railway sleeper photos if you are unsure of what to expect, or give us a ring. It is best to be clear about what you may be getting, rather than chosing something that doesn't fit into your grand design.
Top grade or 'Relay' railway sleepers
These are our best condition railway sleepers. Sometimes they are even good enough to be re-used on a railway track. But remember that they are still 30-40+ year old weathered timbers, and unrecognisable from the new piece of timber they started life as. They will last for years, but they are certainly not pristine!
1st grade railway sleepers
Reasonable condition middle grade railway sleepers. Generally pretty straight, with some cracks, but despite being weathered and 40 - 60 years old, they are in a fairly solid state, and suitable for most landscaping purposes, despite being retired from their hectic life on a railway track.
Lower condition railway sleepers, with many more imperfections and irregularities. They are often older and more weathered rustic versions of grade 1. They may have more rounded waney edges, cracks in the ends, slight decay, occasional damage and in the case of some hardwoods, can be bowed along the length, especially in the case of the Grade 2-3 Dutch oak railway sleepers.
Lowest grade railway sleepers, that may not be suitable for all landscaping purposes. They are most likely to be more irregular, weathered, battered, cracked, damaged, bowed and with some decay etc.... but not necessarily all at the same time! Despite all this, they may still last for ages, with some people particularly liking their battered and world weary appearance.
VISIT US! Nothing beats seeing the railway sleepers in the flesh!
PLEASE RING US FIRST to confirm a time to visit us or to come collect a railway sleepers. 0115 9890445.
Several people have made the journey to us and have been disappointed to find nobody here to help them. Please contact us first, to confirm a visiting time. We're flexible, MON - FRI (9.00 - 4.00) & SAT AM (9.00 - 12.00)
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