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Old 01-10-2018, 01:33 PM   #1
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railroad ties for retaining wall ?


How well do railroad ties hold up when used for a retaining wall ? I am building a new man cave that is 24 ' wide and 28 ' deep . I have to build a retaining wall to protect the back and both sides . So in total aprox. 82 ' of wall length . The back portion is aprox. 30 ' in length and about 5 ' tall . The side walls will be aprox. 30 ' in length and taper from 5 ' where they intersect with the back wall down to about 1 ' at the very front .

I have priced various stone products and while very nice they are quite pricey , I basically need an entire flat bed of stone to do the job . That's why the question on the railroad ties . This is in red GA. clay and the walls will be installed on gravel base and backfilled with gravel . I will probably also add perimeter drain at the base that will exit on both sides at the front .

If railroad ties are not a good option are pressure treated 4 x 6's a better way to go ? In any wood option I will pin/spike them together . I know long term the stone will last longer but the cost is higher than I want to spend so looking for alternate suggestions . I hope this is the right forum for this question .
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Old 01-10-2018, 01:45 PM   #2
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


I know I once had railroad ties lining the sides of my driveway. The termites had a field day. This was in Michigan so I don't know what your termites do down there in the Georgia clay, but definitely have a "Plan B" in place just in case.
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Old 01-10-2018, 01:57 PM   #3
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


How deep will the wall go below grade?
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Old 01-10-2018, 02:32 PM   #4
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


Two things to consider with creosoted railway ties: (1) they are well used when you buy them. The railway didn't pull them out because they were short of something to do. Some will be better than others, but they will all have been down for quite a while. (2) Are there any local restrictions on using them? Some jurisdictions prohibit their use because of the potential for the creosote to leach into the groundwater.

I have used them in years past. They are a pain to work with and are deadly on blades.

Does your jurisdiction (or horrors, HOA) require a permit or approvals for retaining walls?

If I was to use wood I would use PT 6x6 rated for ground contact. Also, you will want to use tie-backs ('deadmen') - I think they are advised for anything over 3' in rise but others may know better.
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Old 01-10-2018, 02:56 PM   #5
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


5 ft is above the height requiring an engineer. just sayin.
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Old 01-10-2018, 03:05 PM   #6
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


Good points about the ties being used up/old for resale I had not considered that . I will have to research pressure treated ground contact approved 6 x 6's to see what the price of those are . I really would prefer stone it's just the cost . I also want to DIY this to help with the cost . Either the lumber or stone is within my skill set . I have never tried to post a pic here so hopefully this works , if it does you get a rough idea of the landscape condition I have .
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Old 01-10-2018, 03:17 PM   #7
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


I would not be afraid to use ties. In 1970 I worked in a park replacing tie stairs that had been built as a make work project in 1933. The ones we took out were the one that had been dipped not pressure treated like the newer ones.
Often they are replaced when the spike holes are to big and the ties are still nice.
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Old 01-10-2018, 03:32 PM   #8
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


Do you really want to be relaxing in your mancave, and smell the creosote from those?

Yes they will be a sound retainer wall, butt ugly though. That area is just begging to be stoned,

So what type of stone were you considering, stacked flagstone, is nice, so is a dry stacked fieldstone wall.

And locally the stone yard sells these stones by the ton, so if it were me I would be looking at a stone supplier, not the big box store.


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Old 01-10-2018, 07:12 PM   #9
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


I cannot speak for other states, but fieldstone around here is high. A guy had some fieldstone on craigslist that was stacked on 4 ft. sq. wood pallets less than 3 ft. tall = $75.00 a pallet or he was selling them for $100.00 a ton. (a ton of fieldstone is not much stone)

Here at Lowes now, even the 4" T x 8" D x 16" long retaining wall blocks are $2.25 each now. Here are some of the 200 now gone, in my back yard that I laid as a border in the pic. And a pic of some really old fieldstone laid by our house along the banks of a storm water "creek".

So I agree, the 6"x 6" CCA timbers may be the way to go, as I would not recommend the RT's either. I will recommend the OP would be helped by pulling up some UTOOB videos on "wood retaining walls" and get some pointers on how to do the drainage, foundation rock, pinning,... for the timbers. A five ft, tall wall will have some serious soil pressure against it on the upper rows of timbers, wanting to topple it. Use "dead man" anchors to help fight the toppling pressures, for sure. JMO
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Old 01-10-2018, 11:20 PM   #10
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


I used RR ties at my last house for a 45 foot by 5 feet tall retaining wall. They are hard on a chainsaw chain, but they were there for 10 years while I was there and still looked like when I put them in. I put a perforated plastic drain bedded and covered with #2 gravel behind the wall. At the 3 foot height I put a dead man (tie going into the hill side) every 8 feet along the run. I pinned each tie to the one below it with 1/2 inch rebar at each end to keep them from possibly moving out of line. After the wall was up I back filled with dirt and planted roses throughout and added mulch. You can see it fairly well in this picture.
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Old 01-11-2018, 07:48 AM   #11
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


Home Depot....7" x 7" x 9 ft. long creosote RT = $13.37

Lowes.... 6" x 6" x 12 ft. long CCA post = $35.47.


Definitely a game changer, for which to choose from for a retaining wall build. The only issue I see is the creosote not being environmentally loved, as both timbers will rot eventually anyway, when enough time passes by. JMO
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Old 01-11-2018, 08:20 AM   #12
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


The retaining wall blocks I priced out were from a stone distributor NOT a big box store . They were the basic style block with the small lip on the back that helps with the offset and the blocks creeping forward . They had two hollow cavities designed to be filled with gravel . There is no doubt I liked these the best.

One point I had not considered on RR ties and PT products is the environmental impact possibilities . My man cave is built on a high point in the yard , so ALL water naturally drains away from it which is good . But our drinking water/house water comes from a well that is at the low point of our yard . I am 60 years old and have beat cancer once but don't want to invite another episode if I can help it

I know the right answer is to use stone it's just a matter of finding room in the budget . Your guys advice will make me make the right decision when I'm ready for the wall . Thanks everyone
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Old 01-11-2018, 07:01 PM   #13
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


Processed decorative crushed stone is sold at $125 a yard in Utah, so I can understand retaining wall stone being a similar price as it is more difficult to process than crushed rock.

I hate redoing things and would rather do it right the first time and have it last longer.

I live in Utah a block from the mountain along the Rocky Mountains so we have rock and gravel and dirt and no clay. In the 1980's, we removed a rock retaining wall between the neighbor's higher property and ours. The rock wall had sloughed down over 20yrs tops as the property was developed in the 1960's. Most of the rocks were from 8-22 inches. We installed about a 3ft tall x 30ft long section of the retaining wall made of 8ft-9ft long railroad ties and put rocks and dirt behind them. They lasted for maybe 10-12 years when they were tipping and crumbling.

I never experienced the smell after installing them. When we removed them they were mostly rotted out except for the faces and they were pretty good ones to begin with.

I tried pricing them recently for a customer but they are harder to get because of the creosote and good ones with more than one or two good faces/sides anyway. Most every supplier (even HD) wanted at least $20 each 8ft for those barely adequate ones. We ended up going with boulders because they were cheaper and better.

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Old 01-11-2018, 07:16 PM   #14
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


Unless you demand on having a vertical wall and can't slope or do terraces, I'd use boulders or retaining wall blocks. You can do it yourself over time if absolutely necessary but it's best to buy all your stone at once or you may not be able to find it, or match it, later.

I don't like the hollow blocks, they are just cheaper and lighter. Weight and size is good to have.

Doing a wall properly with drainage and geo supports are absolutely necessary for best results and you wouldn't want the wall falling into your structure either.

Pressure treated lumber will not last any longer (I'd say less). They are thinner, can be longer, and are much more expensive.

As for termites, they eat wet wood to get their water and food. Utah is basically desert and we get termites when good untreated lumber gets wet. The pressure treated lumber has a bad taste for termites but is not treated against rot. Most residents think we don't have termites but I find them quite often in business. You won't know until you have a failure and termites come with water leaks and leave if they don't find water/wet wood.

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Old 01-11-2018, 10:10 PM   #15
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Re: railroad ties for retaining wall ?


I saw a retaining wall once that was built out of stacked tires, they put a layer of tires, filled each one with dirt, another layer of tires, more dirt, etc.

Until they reached the height they wanted.

It was very sturdy, and as UGLY as it was sturdy.

The point being your wall material is only limited by your imagination, and desire to be appealing or not.


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