Railway sleepers have been a popular addition to garden landscaping in recent years – they can enhance the overall look of the garden in many ways, and with lots of different applications.
There are fundamentally two types – new railway sleepers and reclaimed/recycled second hand sleepers which can be used in different ways to suit your needs, whether it be for a garden feature, a rustic path or a raised vegetable patch.
There have been concerns over the years about some of the safety aspects with second hand railway sleepers
. It has been identified that the Creosote that they were treated with to prevent rot, had levels of some toxic substances which were historically considered safe. However this is no longer considered to be the case as some of the substances within the treatment, have been found to be more harmful than previously thought.
However, there's no need to panic since Creosoted railway sleepers are neither dangerous in most situations nor hazardous if used cautiously and properly. For those who want to use this kind of railway sleeper, always remember not to put it in a position where there will be frequent skin contact such as for seats and benches or for raised beds where you are growing vegetables, as you don't want skin or food contaminated with these chemicals. Also remember when handling creosote treated railway sleepers to always wear gloves.
For applications that will include frequent skin contact and food growing, it is best to use new Oak railway sleepers because these are untreated and this removes any associated risk factors. Oak railway sleepers are generally a strong durable piece of timber and it isn't something that will easily rot with ground contact.
The durability of your garden railway sleepers is determined by the type of railway sleepers you decide to use. Reclaimed hardwood railway sleepers have potentially the most durability, while new hardwood railway sleepers comes next and lastly treated softwood railway sleepers. The life span of your treated softwood railway sleeper heavily depends on the application and quality of treatment used on it.
Recycling railway sleepers is better than continually cutting rainforests, and it is everyone's responsibility to try and recycle materials wherever it is appropriate to do so. Overall you should make sure that you examine the sleepers
you intend to purchase, to make sure they are suitable for the use you intend.