9 Best places to get free railroad ties

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A railroad tie, also known as a crosstie, is a rectangular support structure that holds rails in place on railroad tracks.

Wooden railroad ties have gained popularity in gardening and landscaping. They are commonly used for creating retaining walls, raised-bed gardens, and building steps.

If you’ve recently purchased a new property and aim to enhance your outdoor space or upgrade your garden, you might be interested in finding sources for free railroad ties.

Railroad ties are popular for outdoor projects like gardens and flower beds due to their sturdy nature and appealing rustic look.

Where to get free railroad ties

Where can you find free railroad ties? Consider the following options:

1. Ask local railway companies

If you come across a railroad with abandoned-looking old ties, you might wonder if you can take them. However, it’s not that straightforward. When railway companies install new ties, the old ones may be left behind. It’s crucial to understand that the owners haven’t abandoned these old ties, and they are not available for the public to take.

Railroad ties remain the property of the railway company or government until they assign someone to remove them, even if the ties appear abandoned.

Taking railroad ties without permission is illegal. Avoid taking them, even if they seem abandoned.

Consider reaching out to your local railway company to inquire about their need for ties. If they have no use for them, ask if you can acquire them, possibly for free or at a minimal cost.

While there’s no assurance of receiving them at no cost, it’s worthwhile to inquire.

2. Craigslist

Consider checking Craigslist as another option. Many people offer free items, including furniture. Explore the listings to see if anyone is giving away free railroad ties.

To locate free items on Craigslist, visit the “Free” section within the “For Sale” category on your city’s Craigslist page.

Next, navigate to the “Free” section, where individuals offer various free items. Easily find what you need by using the search filter.

To find free railroad ties nearby, simply search for the term “railroad ties.” Check if there are any available in your local area.

3. Facebook Marketplace

Consider exploring Facebook Marketplace as an alternative option.

If you’re unaware, Facebook Marketplace is an online platform for buying and selling goods. It includes a section for free items, where people give away things at no cost.

Check the free stuff section for people offering free railroad ties. Use the search bar and enter “free railroad ties” to find them easily.

4. OfferUp

OfferUp is an online marketplace for local buying and selling, including a section for free items. However, finding specific free items, like railroad ties, can be challenging as all free items are grouped.

To find the item you want quickly, visit the website and type “railroad ties” into the search bar. Click on the search icon to get a list of results, including ones for purchase. To locate free ties, if any are available, use the filter option and select “Price: Low to High.”

You can find those listings in your search results if someone offers free railroad ties. Even if you don’t find free ties in your search, you can still check OfferUp for the most affordable options and potentially score a great deal on railroad ties.

5. Place an ad online or in your local paper

I discovered numerous free items like wooden pallets and plastic drums using this approach. It’s definitely worth a shot!

To get free railroad ties, consider posting an ad on platforms like Craigslist or in your local newspaper. This could help you obtain the ties at no cost.

While it may not guarantee free railroad ties, it’s worth a shot.

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Consider online classified websites as a cost-effective option for posting ads, as many offer free listings. However, local newspapers remain a valuable choice, too.

6. Construction and demolition sites

You can find used railroad ties at construction or demolition sites where railroads are being removed. Obtain permission from the site manager before getting them.

7. Local landfills or recycling centers

Landfills or recycling centers might receive railroad ties, but it’s becoming less common due to the risks associated with treated wood.

8. Home improvement companies

Consider purchasing railroad ties from home improvement retailers such as Lowe’s. While not free, these ties are usually new, untreated wood or recycled ties approved for residential purposes.

Railroad ties are suitable for landscaping and home projects where safety is important. However, they come with a drawback—the cost, usually averaging around $25 per tie.

9. Lumber yards

Like Tractor Supply Co., lumber yards and farming supply stores frequently offer competitively priced used railroad ties. These ties, being previously used, can bring a rustic charm to landscaping projects at a more affordable cost.

Prices can fluctuate, but as of my last check, the estimated cost was approximately $19 per item.

Railroad ties safety issues

Wooden railroad ties are commonly used in gardening and landscaping, but there are safety concerns associated with their use.

Why wooden railroad ties may not be safe for residential use

Railroad ties are treated with creosote, a preservative that enhances wood durability. Chemically pressure-treated wood, like railroad ties, can last up to 40 years. This makes them a popular choice for outdoor construction due to their long-lasting qualities.

Creosote poses risks to humans and plants as it can seep into the soil, causing pollution. There are concerns about its potential carcinogenic effects.

The EPA is reassessing the use of railroad ties as a pesticide. Opinions vary; some advise against their use due to potential chemical concerns, while others maintain they are safe.

In 2017, the EPA stated:

“Creosote is not approved to treat wood for residential use, including landscaping timbers or garden borders.”

I recently checked the official EPA website’s 2022 update on creosote, and here’s what it says:

“Creosote poses cancer and non-cancer health risks of concern to workers in wood treatment facilities. EPA did not find health risks of concern for the general public or workers who handle creosote-treated wood after application.”

Consider this information as you see fit.

As per Better Homes & Gardens, creosote can seep out of railroad ties into the soil. Yet, used ties usually pose no issue as they have already released most of their creosote.

The impact of creosote on plants remains uncertain. However, due to its toxicity, using new railroad ties with creosote can hinder the growth of creosote-sensitive plants.

To ensure safety, BHG advises against using ties that ooze black creosote or have a noticeable odor. Additionally, avoiding using railroad ties in enclosed spaces like greenhouses is crucial, as the creosote gases emitted can be harmful.

Alternatives to railroad ties

To prioritize safety, it is advisable to steer clear of chemicals such as creosote. Consider selecting naturally rot-resistant woods, such as:

  • Heartwood-grade redwood
  • Knotty red cedar
  • Cypress
  • Catalpa
  • Juniper
  • Osage Orange

Consider recycled plastic or a blend of plastic and sawdust as viable alternatives. These options mimic the appearance and texture of wood, boast durability, and do not emit harmful chemicals.

Also, consider using rocks or pavers to construct retaining walls, as they are safe and non-toxic materials sourced from the earth. You can often find free rocks and pavers on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace websites, making them cost-effective and secure choices.

How much do railroad ties cost?

When you scratch out searching for free local railroad ties, determining their cost depends on your location and market conditions. Prices may vary based on supply and demand. Buying a larger quantity could lead to a lower cost per unit from the seller.

Anticipate spending an average of $5 to $25 per unit.

The bottom line

Getting free railroad ties is possible through online platforms such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or OfferUp. You can also inquire with local railway companies or place an ad in your local paper.

Keep in mind that railroad ties are treated with chemicals like creosote, posing potential harm to you, your pets, plants, and garden soil. Consider using naturally rot-resistant rocks or woods as safer alternatives.