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  • Writer's pictureSteve Wilding

Railway Sleepers For Your Garden Landscaping Project

Updated: Oct 16, 2022

Camels Crossing Railway

When the time comes around to think about your garden landscaping project, railway sleepers may be the perfect product to transform the look and style of your garden, no matter the size or shape of it.


What are railway sleepers?

A railway sleeper is a support system making up the bottom rails in railroad train tracks. They are normally laid perpendicular to the rails, which helps the rails to remain correctly spaced, and also to hold the rails upright. Traditionally railroad sleepers were always made of wood, but concrete is now widely used.


What has this railway component go to do with my garden anyway?

Railway sleepers have been used in garden landscaping projects for a long time. Wooden railway sleepers are used to build raised garden beds, raised flower beds, raised vegetable beds, raised ponds, decking, garden furniture such as customised tables, chairs and benches, borders and garden steps. Wooden railway sleepers can be a significant aesthetic addition to any garden, adding a designer’s edge to your natural space. Wooden railway sleepers for use in garden landscaping projects can be attention-grabbing and cost-effective.

Did you know that there are railway sleepers made from a variety of material, including:

  • Wooden railway sleepers

  • Cast iron railway sleepers

  • Steel railway sleepers

  • Concrete railway sleepers

  • Composite railway sleepers

For the purposes of landscaping projects, we are going to look at wooden railway sleepers today.

Tree Stump

Wooden railway sleepers, for use in garden landscaping projects, are normally:

  • Softwood railway sleepers

  • Hardwood railway sleepers

  • Reclaimed {Used} railway sleepers

Softwood railway Sleepers can be a very economical and cost-effective way to landscape on a budget using sleepers. Softwood sleepers are usually sourced from the Baltics, they are significantly lighter than hardwood sleepers, easier to handle, easier to manoeuvre, and also to cut, drill and position. Softwood railway sleepers can be used for a large variety of landscape projects such as making a retaining wall, building a raised flower bed, garden edgings, for making steps and even garden furniture.

Hardwood railway sleepers are exceptionally versatile, robust and durable. They are effectively a maintenance free alternative in comparison to softwood sleepers. They can be used to make retaining walls, planters, garden paths, and a variety of garden projects and exterior projects. Hardwood sleepers are certainly heavy, and can weigh up to 50kg each. This is because they have a much higher density than softwood. As a consequence, this makes them longer lasting option, where there is contact with the ground, and thereby making them ideal for retaining walls and permanent garden structures.

Reclaimed { used } railway sleepers can give an aesthetic boost to any landscaping project. Weathered sleepers are simply characterful and beautiful. and will enhance your garden no doubt. Reclaimed sleepers are strong and sturdy, with long life span, and they are unlikely to rot. The aged wood of a reclaimed sleeper gives a natural and aesthetically appealing quality to your garden. Original reclaimed railway sleepers will be aged, with holes drilled in them. Original reclaimed sleepers will have been treated with creosote, meaning that they are preserved to increase life span.

What size are railways sleepers usually?

The normal dimensions of sleepers are 250mm or 200mm in width, and 125mm or 100mm deep, and they are normally 1.8m to 3m long.


Ensuring long life

The lifespan will greatly depend on the type of wood. Also, what is the sleeper in contact with? If it is likely to be in regular contact with moisture then the lifespan will be reduced. The lifespan is also likely to be reduced if you cut the wood down to size as it can expose the untreated core to damage. Aim to use certified, high-quality timber from a legitimate supplier to ensure a long life span. Purchase treated timber to prevent problems such as rot, and to extend longevity. Therefore, timber that has been treated with preservative is often the best choice. UC3 {use class 3 } treated timber is best for use out of the ground, and UC4 { use class 4} treated timber is best for in-ground.

Incised is another word to watch for. Incising is a pre-treatment process - bespoke designed blades are inserted into the face and edge of the timber section. Incised timber is engineered to provide a superior preservative treatment. This treatment process allows the preservative to permeate the timber to a deeper level, to achieve a longer lifespan.

Pen on notes


I hope this information helped you. In summary, when it comes to wooden sleepers, not all of them are the same. With choices between softwood, hardwood and reclaimed, and also consider if the wooden railway sleeper is use class 3 { UC3 }, use class 4 { UC4 } or something else? Also, is it incised, so that the preservative treatment can run deeper. Have a think about your specific project and what type of sleeper you may need as a minimum to make it feasible for that project. For any advice or garden project landscaping requirements, we at SJ Wilding Garden Services are always happy to help you achieve your dream garden.

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