Railway sleepers have found a second life in gardens, landscaping, and interior design projects around the world. Their rugged charm and sturdy nature make them a popular choice for creating features such as raised beds, steps, retaining walls, and even furniture. However, one of the first decisions you'll face when considering railway sleepers for your project is whether to opt for new or reclaimed versions. Both have their merits and drawbacks, which we will explore in depth to help you make an informed decision.

Understanding Railway Sleepers

Before we dive into the pros and cons of new versus reclaimed railway sleepers, it's important to understand what railway sleepers are and their intended use. Traditionally, railway sleepers (or railroad ties in the US) are the rectangular supports laid perpendicular to the rails on railway tracks, providing a stable base and maintaining the correct gauge. They can be made of wood, concrete, or steel, but wooden sleepers are the most sought after for domestic and landscaping projects due to their aesthetic appeal and versatility.

New Railway Sleepers

New railway sleepers are typically made from softwoods such as pine or hardwoods like oak. They are treated with preservatives to extend their lifespan, making them a durable option for outdoor and indoor projects.


  • Consistency: New sleepers offer uniformity in size, shape, and colour, making them ideal for projects requiring a neat, organised appearance.
  • Longevity: Thanks to modern preservative treatments, new sleepers have a long lifespan, especially when not in direct contact with ground soil.
  • Safety: New sleepers are free from creosote, a preservative used in older sleepers that can be harmful to health, making them a safer choice for family gardens and indoor projects.


  • Cost: New sleepers are often more expensive than their reclaimed counterparts, which might be a significant factor for large projects.
  • Environmental Impact: While sustainably sourced options are available, the production of new sleepers, including the harvesting of trees and the use of chemical treatments, has a higher environmental impact.

Reclaimed Railway Sleepers

Reclaimed sleepers are those that have been previously used in railway tracks. They are often sought after for their character and historical value.


  • Character: With their aged appearance and unique patina, reclaimed sleepers add character and a sense of history to any project.
  • Eco-Friendly: Choosing reclaimed sleepers is an environmentally friendly option as it repurposes existing materials, reducing the demand for new timber.
  • Cost: Generally, reclaimed sleepers are cheaper than new ones, though this can vary based on condition and availability.


  • Variable Condition: The condition of reclaimed sleepers can vary widely, making it difficult to find ones that are suitable for your project without sorting through many options.
  • Creosote Treatment: Many old sleepers were treated with creosote to prolong their life. This substance can be harmful and is not suitable for all uses, particularly where there is frequent skin contact or in children's play areas.
  • Preparation: Reclaimed sleepers might require additional preparation, such as cleaning or cutting, before they can be used in your project.

Making Your Choice

When deciding between new and reclaimed railway sleepers, consider the specific requirements of your project. If safety, consistency, and minimal environmental impact are your priorities, new sleepers may be the best choice. However, if cost-effectiveness, character, and sustainability are more important, reclaimed sleepers could provide the solution you're looking for.

Regardless of which type you choose, it's essential to source your sleepers from reputable suppliers who can provide information on the origin and treatment of the wood. This ensures that you make an eco-conscious choice that is safe and suitable for your intended use.

In conclusion, both new and reclaimed railway sleepers have a place in landscaping and design projects. By carefully considering the factors outlined in this guide, you can select the option that best meets your needs, preferences, and values, ensuring your project is both beautiful and sustainable.