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Railway Sleepers Explained

A look at railway sleepers and their uses in the home

At Theo’s Timber, in Manchester, we are surrounded by countless railway sleepers. They form part of the Metrolink trams which pass our yard. The main line into Manchester Victoria station is close by too with many new routes now in place, taking commuters in all directions.

Railway Sleepers image by JaboticabaFotos (via Shutterstock).Today’s railway sleepers are made from steel or pre-stressed concrete. The former has replaced wooden sleepers on provincial services, whereas concrete sleepers have been common on inter-city routes over the last 60 years. With wooden sleepers shunned for steel and concrete, they have become a common feature in our homes and gardens.

Types of wood used in railway sleepers

A variety of hardwoods and softwoods are used in wooden sleepers. Historically, Jarrah and Oak woods have been used. In untreated form, Greenheart, Mora, Karri, and Azobe woods are also commonplace, and they can last for up to a hundred years. Density and elasticity are among the strongest points of wooden railway sleepers. They are also the most lightweight option.

Hardwood Oak sleepers are popular in the home. They are a popular option for outdoor decking and floating shelves. Typically, they are also used for raised beds. Furthermore, they can also be used imaginatively as part of patio furniture, or a bed base.

Instead of fresh timber, wooden sleepers can add character to your decking. They are good for stairs – inside the home as well as your garden path.

How railway sleepers can transform the look of your garden

Many of today’s trains use concrete and steel sleepers. Before Continuously Welded Rail (CWR) became the norm, wooden railway sleepers were added to rails over on shorter rail lengths. If you’re wondering how we come into the equation, Theo’s Timber is surrounded by viaducts and the River Irk. Only yards away from our base are the main lines to Rochdale and Ashton-under-Lyne which continue to West Yorkshire. On the other side was the Thorpe’s Bridge Junction chord that avoided Miles Platting. Part of which is used by the Metrolink service to Oldham, Shaw and Rochdale.

Why railway sleepers?

Some of you may associate wooden sleepers with football terracing as well as their original purpose. Properly treated, railway sleepers can be used in practical and decorative ways. They can form part of a garden fence or as an alcove. They can be converted to bench seating. Its most popular uses include pathways, steps and raised beds.

Whether you choose new or reclaimed wooden sleepers, they make for a strong surface. Before you choose, please note that reclaimed railway sleepers are treated with creosote. Therefore, creosote treated sleepers should only be used outside – away from children’s play areas and fish ponds. You wish to use railway sleepers beside your pond or a child’s swing, go for new ones.

How can new sleepers be known as railway sleepers if they’ve been nowhere near Manchester Victoria station?

Probably for ease of use or laziness. At Theo’s Timber, we think they should be referred to as ‘bulk timber.’ Strictly speaking, they resemble sleepers and use the same kind of wood. Typically in new or untreated oak.

For further information and inspiration…

Pinterest has a substantial number of projects using railway sleepers that will whet your appetite. Just search for ‘wooden sleepers’ or ‘railway sleepers’. There should be plenty of ideas to inspire your garden. Also, you can contact us on 0161 834 6789 and ask for Theo or Steve. Alternatively, you can send us an email to

If you have any queries about using railway sleepers for your garden, or as a floating shelf, why not talk to us on. We will be happy to get back to you as soon as possible.

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