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Old 06-25-2008, 11:05 PM   #1
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railroad tie retaining wall


i need to put up a retaining wall on 1 side of my driveway. i was thinking about using railroad ties but i dont know if they will work, hold, or rot quickly. the wall will be 30' long and no more then 2' tall. if not railroad ties then what else can i use that is not too expensive? also the soil in my yard has alot of sand in it so it does not pack really tight. will this be an issue? if so, how could i avoid problems? thanks.

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Old 06-26-2008, 09:56 AM   #2
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i need to put up a retaining wall on 1 side of my driveway. i was thinking about using railroad ties but i dont know if they will work, hold, or rot quickly. the wall will be 30' long and no more then 2' tall. if not railroad ties then what else can i use that is not too expensive? also the soil in my yard has alot of sand in it so it does not pack really tight. will this be an issue? if so, how could i avoid problems? thanks.
Installed a retaining wall of similar size and length over 20 years ago using railroad ties and have had no problem with rotting. We drilled pilot holes in RR ties, inserted long piece of heavy rebar and pounded deep into ground with sledge. Used additional spikes to give added stability to layers of ties. The RR ties we bought were used but made sure they were still in good condition.

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Old 06-29-2008, 10:18 PM   #3
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railroad tie retaining wall


I work for a major rail road...and have seen RR ties last many many years...I have seen some ties that have been hand carved and at least 75 years old that still are in tracks...and look good. You should not have a problem with ties...just make sure if you have to cut one....treat the end that you cut with something or that might start a problem.
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Old 06-29-2008, 11:16 PM   #4
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I hate to be the voice of opposition, but I built a retaining wall for my driveway in 2000 out of railroad ties. Due to water draining off the driveway, the ties were usually wet, or at least moist. This year I tore the ties out because about half of them were rotting and had become pretty punky.

If your area has good drainage, and you backfill with gravel and drain the wall correctly, it will last a long time. If you just backfill it with dirt and don't control the water, it will not last.

Railroad ties last a long time for the railroad because they're sitting on gravel, and on elevated beds of earth where water normally won't stand for very long.

Also, don't just stack the ties. You HAVE to use some dead-men sticking back perpindicular to the wall.
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Old 06-30-2008, 10:55 AM   #5
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I agree with installing lateral ties (horizontal runs into the earth being retained). I recently built 2 retiaining walls and the customer did not want me to disturb the existing flower beds. I ended up setting verticle posts 3' deep in concrete. The walls are held together with 12" spikes. The wall I took out was rr ties -they were all rotted but were there for some time. I also backed the wall with 4" of gravel and installed 4 drainage points.

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railroad tie retaining wall-100_0588.jpg

railroad tie retaining wall-100_0590.jpg

railroad tie retaining wall-100_0591.jpg
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Old 06-30-2008, 11:05 AM   #6
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I agree with installing lateral ties (horizontal runs into the earth being retained). I recently built 2 retiaining walls and the customer did not want me to disturb the existing flower beds. I ended up setting verticle posts 3' deep in concrete. The walls are held together with 12" spikes. The wall I took out was rr ties -they were all rotted but were there for some time. I also backed the wall with 4" of gravel and installed 4 drainage points.

HandyMac
www.handymacimprovements.com

Beautiful job. Enjoyed the photos.
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Old 06-30-2008, 11:23 AM   #7
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Thanks remodelingagain - and again - if you are like me .
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Old 06-30-2008, 11:14 PM   #8
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Great photos. I have to admit I've never liked railroad ties because of old ones we had that were rotted and ill fitting. I see that picture and say, hey, that looks great. New perspective!
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Old 06-30-2008, 11:39 PM   #9
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Great photos. I have to admit I've never liked railroad ties because of old ones we had that were rotted and ill fitting. I see that picture and say, hey, that looks great. New perspective!
Just for the record, those don't appear to be railroad ties in the picture. Railroad ties are treated with creosote or similar oily treatments. The pictures look like 6x6 ACQ or CCA treated material, and it is beautiful work.
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Old 07-01-2008, 07:56 AM   #10
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Thanks for your compliment on the wall. They are 6x6's. There are many old wall around here made using RR ties - Many need to be replaced. When the economy turns around I think I'll be doing many more .

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Old 07-06-2008, 01:14 PM   #11
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Done a lot of walls with true RR ties & milled landscape timbers. RR ties do not fit as smoothly as milled products, but they will last much, much longer due to the creosote. I found that soil that is predominately sand and does not have a lot of clay mixed in holds moisture longer and will run with the flow of water. To avoid the moisture issue, do follow the advice of gravel against the ties. To help with sand seepage, staple a fabric style landscape fabric (this is better for your needs than the plastic tight mesh kind) to the ties then backfill with your gravel. This should keep you from having to reclaim your sand from your driveway.
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Old 07-06-2008, 01:42 PM   #12
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The RR ties that become available to you do so because they have been removed from service by the RR. That means they are already starting to deteroriate before you get them; so IMO it makes no sense to invest all your labor in building something with bad material in the beginning. I would find a lumber yard that will get you some .60 retention treated 6 x 6's. They will cost more than the typical .40 retention stuff readily available, but the extra up front material costs will still be less than rebuilding the wall in a few years. Don't believe the incredible life spans advertised for treated wood; in the real workd it is about 50% of the advertising hype, especially in ground contact situations, and with larger timbers, because the preservative penetration is not good in the heartwood of the tree. Look at the end of anything from 4 x 4 up, and you will see from the growth rings that the vast majority of them are cut from the center of the log.
It will definately enhance the life span to use a layer of gravel under, and against the inside of the timbers. Also a layer of landscape fabric will help keep the sand from migrating into the gravel.

Last edited by troubleseeker; 07-06-2008 at 01:45 PM.
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Old 09-01-2008, 08:08 PM   #13
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What can you treat railroad ties with?
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Old 09-01-2008, 08:44 PM   #14
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railroad tie retaining wall


Much of the durability to the performance of the old railroad tie walls is the treatment AND the wood used.

Most people will not accept the creosote treatment because of the appearance, mess and possible smell while new. CCA and ACQ in not in the same ballpark as creosote when it comes to providing durability.

The old railroad ties that people associate with durability is a totally different type of wood than what is usually available. The old growth wood is to dense to accept the modern preservative processes and the dense. durable wood is much more costly and difficult to find. The new treated lumber is usually not old growth, so it does not have the density and soundness of what everyone associates with long term life.

It is very easy to be dissapointed and in a problem when your guaranteed job does not hold up, unless you plan to move in a few years. - If you makes sure you use good drainage, that will prolong the life, but that was not a priority on the old walls that lasted.
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Old 09-02-2008, 07:22 AM   #15
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I hate to be the voice of opposition, but I built a retaining wall for my driveway in 2000 out of railroad ties. Due to water draining off the driveway, the ties were usually wet, or at least moist. This year I tore the ties out because about half of them were rotting and had become pretty punky.

If your area has good drainage, and you backfill with gravel and drain the wall correctly, it will last a long time. If you just backfill it with dirt and don't control the water, it will not last.

Just wanted to quote that so you would be forced to read it again. If you plan on living there longer than 5 years build it out of stone. Either the dry-stack engineered stone, or have a mason build one for you. The extra money you spend now will make up for having to redo it down the road.

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