How Long Will Railway Sleepers Last?

Railway sleepers are a popular and attractive choice for adding structure to a garden. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have a natural, rustic appeal. But how long will they last, and is it possible to elongate their lifespan?! I’ve answered all your questions about the durability of railway sleepers below, as well as providing a few tips on how to keep them in the best condition possible. 

So, how long will railway sleepers last? Railways sleepers should last for several decades. Though it does depend on how you treat them, the type of wood they’re made from, and the elements they are exposed to. Prolonged exposure to suboptimal conditions will see their lifespan significantly reduce. 

Keep reading to find out how to make sure your railway sleepers last for years to come!

What Is The Average Time Railway Sleepers Last?

The average time that railway sleepers last is 20-50 years. Though, this huge range can vary from gardener to gardener , context to context.

If you purchase railway sleepers for your garden, you can usually rest assured that they’ll be sturdy enough to last decades as intended.

However, some people get much more time than this, others a lot less.

Ultimately, it’s down to several factors, as we shall now explore below.

Factors That Impact How Long Railway Sleepers Last

Quality of Material

One of the key factors that determine how long a railway sleeper will last is the material that it’s made from.

Ordinarily, railway sleepers are made out of wood, but the type of wood used certainly varies and can broadly be split into two categories: hardwood and softwood.

Hardwood railway sleepers, such as oak and walnut, are known for their strength, durability, and subsequent rot resistance.

On the other hand, softwood railway sleepers, such as pine and cedar, are more lightweight.

However, they’re still suitable for outdoor use and will remain in great condition, provided they’re subject to suitable maintenance. 


Temperature, humidity, and precipitation levels can all have a significant impact on the lifespan of railway sleepers.

Whilst the optimal conditions for wood are dry environments, drought conditions risk drying them out, in turn making them brittle and at risk of splitting.

Additionally, while wood is generally strong and durable, high temperatures and humid conditions can cause it to expand.

If the wood is not left to dry properly, rot and decay may ensue.

Hence, no matter what the season, if railway sleepers are not protected from the weather, you can guarantee that they’ll begin to deteriorate. 


Whilst railway sleepers are pretty sturdy by nature, they still need looking after.

The right treatment, which I’ve detailed below, has the ability to take the life of your railway sleepers from twenty years to fifty, if not much longer! 

How Do You Maximize The Longevity Of Your Railway Sleepers?

Continual exposure to the elements means that railway sleepers can quickly become damaged and need to be replaced.

Fortunately, with the proper maintenance, it’s simple enough to ensure that they’ll stand the test of time.

Simply follow the below steps to keep your railway sleepers in the best condition possible. 

Seal Your Sleepers

Railway sleepers are made from wood, which means they’re susceptible to water damage.

If you don’t seal them, they will start to rot, warp and become weak.

This will lead to premature deterioration and may even cause them to collapse. 

To seal your railway sleepers, you will need to apply a high-quality sealer, such as a wood or decking oil, approximately twice a year.

The best seasons to do so are Spring and Autumn as a precursor to the more extreme weather to come.

You can find suitable sealing solutions in most hardware or home improvement stores, though I am a huge fan of this one from Amazon.

Either way, even if you don’t opt for that recommendation above, when making the purchase, remember to double-check that it’s designed for outdoor use and is UV resistant.

Additionally, if you’re keen to add a splash of color to your garden, you might want to paint your railway sleepers.

As well as evoking an aesthetic transformation, the layers of paint will help to protect your sleepers against the weather and keep them looking great for longer.

Just be sure to select a paint that is designed for outdoor use and won’t peel or flake as the weather changes, as well as one that will adhere well to the wood at hand. 

Prevent Pests

Wood-eating pest invasions, such as that of termites, can be extremely detrimental to the health of your railway sleepers.

Hence, it’s critical to protect them, and you can do so in numerous ways. First up – sealing!

The sealer you apply will act as a protective layer against pests, so it’s important that you don’t forget to reapply it periodically.

Other measures include dispensing neem oil across your sleepers to kill any pests that dare wander onto them and the strategic placement of scent deterrents such as tea tree.

Finally, if you notice that your sleepers are showing signs of rotting, be sure to restore or replace them as quickly as you can.

After all, rotting wood is a mere feast for pests. 

Restore When Needed 

Wear and tear aside, if you notice that your railway sleepers aren’t quite in the same condition as they were when you bought them, you may need to restore them.

Whilst entirely rotten sleepers are usually beyond restoration and will need to be replaced if the rot or other damage is only partial, there is definitely hope!

All you’ll need to do is cut any loose or rotten wood off and apply a new coat of sealer to protect them from the elements once again.

The restored sleepers may not be as strong as they once were, but at least you will have done everything in your power to enhance their lifespan as much as possible. 

Clean Them Regularly 

Cleaning your railway sleepers is fundamental to keeping them in tip-top shape and thus extending their lifespan.

By removing any dirt and grime that has built up, you’ll prevent them from becoming matted and rotten.

To do so, sweep them regularly and routinely clean them with a pressure washer or hose pipe coupled with a mild cleaning agent.

Remember to only undergo such cleaning during times of dry weather to ensure that the sleepers will be able to dry thoroughly and avoid prolonged exposure to moisture.

Place Them Strategically

Finally, railway sleepers are designed to withstand a lot of wear and tear, but as mentioned above, they’re not completely weatherproof.

To best protect your railway sleepers from the elements, you may want to consider placing them in a shaded area to prevent them from becoming too hot during the Summer months. 

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