• Concrete vs Wood Ties

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by Darien Red Sox
What are the advantages of using concrete rail ties vs. wood ones. Why if one is better do they use both and if concrete lasts longer way not just replace them all with concrete when they ware out?
  by Swedish Meatball
It costs considerably more for concrete. The ride is much smoother as long as the road bed is not washed out like in the Bronx.
  by TDowling
The concretes don't last as long as you would think. A friend of mine who works for Metro-North says they were encountering some problems and had to replace many of them.
  by henry6
Yes, there were some problems with a certain "batch" of concrete ties that MNRR and Amtrak used...but it was reportedly an isolated incident form one manufacturer's order. Concrete ties have lasted for long periods of time under many conditions in many locations and under various loads and traffic. Overall, they're much better.
  by SubaruWRX
I think Metro North was out replacing concrete ties this morning 7/12 between Cos Cob and Greenwich... required bridgeplates for work.
  by pennsy
In the west, especially Southern California, you see more and more concrete ties. As the wooden ties get replaced you are seeing large sections with concrete ties. I have also heard good things about plastic composite ties. They are also gaining in popularity.
  by Clean Cab
Concrete ties work well if you have good drainage and you use the right sized ballast. If you use large sized ballast, you essentially create a dry well where water builds up between the ties.

Call me old fashioned, but I personally like wood ties over concrete ties.
  by buxtonmach
Does anyone know the cost difference between wood and concrete ties?
  by lpetrich
I've seen a lot of concrete ties in some urban-rail systems, like BART and various light-rail systems. Interestingly, their track switches mostly have wooden ties, possibly because it's easier to construct switches with them -- easier to hammer in a spike or make a bolt hole at some suitable location than with concrete. But I've found concrete-tie switches in a few places, like a bit at the Hoboken Terminal.

Interestingly, the older lines of some recent light-rail systems have wooden ties, while just about all their newer lines use concrete ties.

I checked on Portland, Sacramento, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Denver, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Dallas, Hudson-Bergen, and Baltimore.

It must be said that it's easy to tell with Google Maps which ties are wood and which ones are concrete, at least in urban areas.

As to wood vs. concrete, could the issue be one of initial vs. continuing cost? Concrete ties are more expensive than wooden ones, but they seem to need less maintenance.
  by CPSK
I have heard and read that concrete and maybe a form of synthetic will be replacing all new RR ties in the not too distant future, as Creosote, used to preserve wood ties will be banned soon. It has already been banned for public and other commercial uses, but RR's have gotten away with a delay on the ban for now.
As lpetrich said, you can see which ties are concrete and which are wood looking at Google maps. I can see that some new track laid out on the CSX Riverline along the Hudson has concrete ties.
Riding through Secaucus on NJT I see they used all concrete, but I think there are wood ties on the switches, as mentioned previously.
In the long run, concrete is a much better choice for their lower maintainance cost, and probably less expensive in the long run than wood.

On the down side for railfans, when concrete ties replace creosote soaked wood ones, we lose that old familiar railroad smell, something I have to come to love over the years.
But then, we lost the "clickety clack" way back when welded /ribbon rail came along. We lived through that, so I think we'll live through the loss of creosote<g>

  by David Benton
Perhaps another factor in having wood ties at switches is that there is more likely to be derailments near switches , wooden ones possibly easier to replace ?
  by Tadman
Interesting - NICTD, owner of South Shore passenger service, has removed all concrete ties installed by prior management about 20 years ago. Not sure if it was prior management's financial problems or the supplier's quality control that cause early failure, but I hear the track department was not a fan of concrete ties to say the least.
  by atsf sp
I've heard that a lot of railorads are having trouble with concrete ties such as the metro north. But it seems to only be commuter. I like wood better, and the creosote.
  by pennsy
They are also evaluating Composite Plastic ties. Anyone have any information on that ?

The concrete ties that Metrolink and UP use apparently are working out quite well. All are still in place and more is being added as time goes by.
  by lowpost50
concrete ties are good for passenger trains. wood ties are good for freight. even with good ballast, drainage and foundation.
concrete ties will crack faster with freight trains due to the weight. wooden ties flex for the heavy weight.