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Can You Burn Railroad Ties? Alternative Uses, Disposal, & FAQ

Railroad Ties

Railroad ties are essentially large pieces of wood. They are commonly used in landscaping and garden design, and their size and wooden material mean that it can be very tempting to use them as firewood. However, because they are treated with creosote, they can give off a lot of smoke when burned, which makes them impractical, and the smoke can be toxic, which also makes them unsafe.

In fact, while ties have been used in gardens for decades, they could also cause damage to soil and plants, which means that the only safe way to really dispose of these large pieces of wood is at a landfill.

flooring divider What Are Railroad Ties?

Railroad Ties
Image Credit: Akiyoko, Shutterstock

Railroad ties, sometimes also called railway sleepers, are supporting braces that connect to the metal rails. They are designed to keep the rails in place and ensure an even gap between them. Although they are commonly made from wood, some are made from concrete.

They are buried in the ground, typically with gravel or stone placed between them, and the metal rails are bolted into place on top of the ties. When railroads are lifted or if the ties have become worn and need replacement, they are disposed of.

Are They Safe to Burn?

To protect the wood ties from the weather and to prolong their life, they are usually coated in creosote, which means that they are not suitable for burning. They give off a lot of smoke and this can be toxic to you and your neighbors.

Because railroad ties are so large, they would need cutting before burning, but this can also be dangerous. The sawdust contains toxins from the creosote, and inhaling the tiny particles can cause respiratory and other problems.

Can They Be Used in the Garden?

The creosote-coated ties can even be damaging to soil and plants, which means they are not ideally suited for use in the garden, either. They certainly shouldn’t be used as borders for fruit and vegetable patches because the toxic chemicals can leach into the soil, so you may be ingesting them when eating the resulting produce. And the creosote could kill any plants in the surrounding area, so it is best to avoid their use altogether.

Railroad Ties
Image Credit: Andy Fogelsonger, Shutterstock

How to Safely Dispose of Railroad Ties

Ideally, you should avoid buying or accepting railroad ties in the first place, but they can be found in a lot of gardens and potentially on other properties. If you do have old railroad ties and need to get rid of them, burning them isn’t a safe option, which means that proper disposal requires they be sent to a landfill. The size, and the fact that you can’t safely saw them, means that your best option is usually to have a professional garbage company come and remove them for you.

flooring divider Conclusion

Railroad ties are large pieces of wood that appear to be useful for landscaping and as firewood. However, in reality, they are coated in creosote, which means that it isn’t safe to saw them, burn them, or use them in your garden. Have them professionally removed or take them to a refuse site to safely dispose of railroad ties.


Featured Image Credit: Becky Wright Photography, Shutterstock

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