Building a Railroad Tie Retaining Wall: Mistakes to Avoid

A retaining wall.

One of the truly great looking improvements that anyone can make to their sloped landscape is in the railroad tie retaining wall. This type of wall has tremendous character built into it with the wide railroad ties, discoloration, gouges, and even history.

Once the ground is prepared, the process of building a railroad tie retaining wall is very straightforward. It is labor-intensive, though, and does take a lot of time. Paying attention to the process is very important to make sure that the wall will remain standing for many years to come. Here are some of the mistakes to avoid when installing a railroad tie retaining wall.

Not Keeping the Ground Even

The most important part of the entire process of building your retaining wall is having an even surface to work from. Many people get in a hurry and rush to get the wall completed. They do not take the time to even out the ground that the ties will be sitting on. Take the extra time to use a stamper, and a level, to ensure that the ground is level and solid.

Not Keeping Ties Staggered

Working with railroad ties means that you will have to cut them to different lengths to stagger them as you continue to build the wall. This staggered layering will add a lot of strength to the wall as each joint between the ties is interlocked rather than just sitting on top of each other.

Not Using Anchor Ties

When building a retaining wall out of any material, and especially with railroad ties, you must have some sort of tie between the wall and the ground it is holding back. With railroad ties you should use a 4 foot length of a tie that goes straight into the hillside and is also resting on the wall itself. This will give the wall added strength by making use of the power of the hillside to hold it in place.

Not Using Rebar Through Ties

Some people do not realize that rebar must be used in the wooden railroad tie retaining wall just as much as it should be used with a mortar wall. The rebar works within the wall itself to give it added strength. You will need to take the time to drill into several pieces of the railroad tie and set some rebar into the hole.

Not Using a Water Barrier

A plastic felt that goes underneath the first course of railroad ties, and the back of the wall, must be used to keep water away from the wood. Even if it is treated, sitting in a puddle of water will eat its way through the treatment after a long period of time. Keep the wood protected by using a water barrier.

Not Using Stones or Pipes for Drainage

Before you begin laying out the railroad ties you should also put in place some drainage for water that comes down the hillside. This should be in the form of stones or a drainage pipe or both. This can be either directly under the railroad ties or a few inches below the ground where the ties will be positioned.