Railway sleepers, also known as railroad ties or track sleepers, are essential elements of railway tracks that provide stability and support to the rail structure. Over the years, various materials have been used to manufacture sleepers, including stone, concrete, and metal. However, wooden sleepers have remained the most favoured choice due to their affordability and easy installation. Wood types can be categorised into two main categories: hardwood and softwood. In this article, we will delve into the differences between these two materials and discuss their benefits as well as drawbacks in the context of railway sleepers.

Hardwood vs Softwood: An Overview

The primary distinction between hardwood and softwood is based on the tree species from which they are sourced. Hardwoods come from deciduous trees that lose their leaves seasonally, such as oak, teak, and walnut. These trees have a slower growth rate, resulting in denser wood. Softwoods, on the other hand, are derived from evergreen coniferous trees that do not shed their leaves, such as pine, spruce, and cedar. These species tend to grow more rapidly, producing lighter wood.

Hardwood Sleepers

Hardwood sleepers are commonly used throughout the UK due to their exceptional strength, durability, and longevity. Their higher density and interlocking grain structure make them less prone to splitting and warping, ensuring a stable foundation for railway tracks.


  • Greater strength and load-bearing capacity
  • High resistance to wear and tear
  • Excellent longevity, often exceeding 30 years
  • Resistance to insect and fungal attacks


  • Heavier weight, making them more challenging to transport and manoeuvre
  • Higher cost compared to softwood sleepers
  • Limited availability as they come from slower-growing trees

Softwood Sleepers

Softwood sleepers, although less commonly used than hardwood counterparts, still offer a viable option for many railway projects. These sleepers are generally easier to work with due to their lighter weight and pliable nature. However, they may require more frequent maintenance and replacement.


  • Lighter weight, making transportation and installation more manageable
  • More affordable compared to hardwood sleepers
  • Readily available due to faster tree growth


  • Lower load-bearing capacity and overall strength
  • Shorter lifespan, typically around 15-20 years
  • Susceptibility to insect and fungal attacks unless adequately treated

Making the Right Choice

The ultimate choice between hardwood and softwood sleepers depends on numerous factors, including budget constraints, track requirements, and project-specific criteria such as location and environmental considerations.

For those seeking a long-lasting, low-maintenance solution, hardwood sleepers are the clear winner, as their superior strength and durability often outweigh higher upfront costs. However, softwood sleepers should not be disregarded. They may prove ideal in circumstances where cost-effectiveness, ease of transportation and installation, and the need to cater to an environmentally friendly approach are of greater priority.

When purchasing railway sleepers, it is imperative to choose a reputable supplier like East Coast Fencing, who can guarantee high-quality sleepers and offer professional advice to ensure the correct selection for your specific needs.


Understanding the differences between hardwood and softwood sleepers, their advantages and disadvantages, can help you make an informed choice that best suits your project.