• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • r ranson
  • Anne Miller
  • paul wheaton
  • Joseph Lofthouse
stewards:
  • Mike Jay
  • Jocelyn Campbell
  • Devaka Cooray
garden masters:
  • Steve Thorn
  • Dave Burton
  • Dan Boone
gardeners:
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
  • Mike Barkley

Railroad Ties.

 
Posts: 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hello everyone!
I inherited A LOT (and I mean A LOT) of railroad ties. I hear a lot of mixed stories when it comes to them, for one, they're extremely toxic, yet, they've been around for over 100 years. The one story I just heard is that they are illegal to have/use in a residential setting. Is this true? Or does it depend on where and how they're used? I understand they're made with Creosote but, there are other things these days that are 10 to 100 times more toxic than these things. Am I wrong? I've already been using some and they look Amazingly Fantastic. If there's anyone out there that can help with those few questions, I'd greatly appreciate it. Thank you.
 
gardener
Posts: 2347
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
301
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have been working on the railway for the past 4 years.  A year and a half ago the employees were all issued a memo that stated that we were to not only wear disposable rubber gloves under our leather gloves when handling the ties, and to absolutely avoid getting the creosote on our bare skin, but that we were to wipe our boots of with specified wipes before going home.  That's how toxic they are.  Unfortunately, a third of our workforce is set to retire after having worked with this garbage for their entire careers.  My advice:  Get rid of them.  It's a concentrated toxin that you do not need.
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2347
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
301
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The railway would not have taken this measure, if they did not have legal (lawsuit) reasons for doing so.  On our daily job briefing form there is a box to check that we have gone over the creosote tie policy.  Pretty serious, if they go that far.
 
pollinator
Posts: 376
Location: San Diego, California
51
forest garden rabbit chicken food preservation building woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
A good general guideline that something may not be a good idea to use - if you can smell it, that means molecules of it are entering your body (that's how smell works).
Not everything that we can smell is bad; but, if something is toxic, and you can smell it, then you are being exposed to it, as a matter of course.  

I would not live in a house of Creosote logs, nor would I edge a raised bed with them, make a compost frame or animal enclosure, or have them in contact with my water source.


Something far away from my house, that I never come in contact with? I might be okay with it, but only if it's free, or the best material for the job in all other aspects.
Robert's experience with this is making me seriously rethink this last statement.


Robert, what is the railway replacing these toxic ties with when they are damaged?? Is there another material/product, or does the railway just continue on with it as a "necessary evil"?
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2347
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
301
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The railway is still using wood ties, but it is also transitioning a lot of rail bed with concrete ties.  These concrete ties are massive at more than 700 lbs each, and are generally laid by machines, as are most wood tie replacement these days.  The wood ties, however, can be replaced by hand, and hand tools.  Machines are necessary more and more because the volume of train traffic has increased such that in order to keep up with the degeneration of the system, mechanization was essential.  We are always working on the ties, or the plates and spikes which attach the rail to them, and so we are on the ground level of the ties, and there are milliions of these wood ties still in place, slowly breaking down; and the system will slowly transition to concrete.  There is talk about using them as fuel in power plants and steel mills, and if this was done with a very high temperature, then it might be the best way to 'dispose' of them while putting them to some use.  At this point, the track in many locations is lined with massive stacks of the old ones, like several hundred feet long and twenty or so ties high.  I refuse to bring any to my forty acres, even though I have all the access to do so.  
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2347
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
301
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
To answer your question more clearly though, Dustin, the railway replaces sections of creosote wood ties with concrete ties, but it's a huge long term program  They replace single defective ties still with wood ties until the larger area is prescribed for a full transition to concrete ties.    Concrete, of course, has it's own set of problems, both permaculturally, and railway speaking.  The same is true of bridges being transitioned from creosote wood to steel girders, but this transition is less rapid, as the wood, though under stress, is not under the same wear and tear as the rail bed ties, and it is generally only bridge crews who are dealing with them.
 
steward
Posts: 4616
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
441
hugelkultur forest garden fungi books bee greening the desert
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Roberto, There are piles of them across Wyoming too. I was thinking about getting some for fence posts around my 40 acres but when I called the UP they said that they do not allow the public to have them and have sold them all to a contractor who sells them to power plants as you have mentioned. I know of older towns in Wyoming where the old ties were used to build "homes" (shacks) and walls for snow fencing. Not sure if the old ties were treated the same way or if they are just so old that the treatment has worn off, but some of them no longer smell and are dry and grey.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2893
Location: Toronto, Ontario
324
hugelkultur dog forest garden fungi trees rabbit urban wofati cooking bee homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Another good way of telling if the creosote is still present is if the wood isn't decomposing in a situation where it otherwise would. Decomposers won't touch the stuff if it's toxic.

I wouldn't mess with the stuff. Based on what has been said here alone, I would probably pay someone to remove it for me.

I have said this in the context of using used tires for building or in the garden, but to me, it's not logical to put effort into a clean way of living and growing food while incorporating toxic elements.

It sounds like the railroad ties are much worse. For a free resource, it will cost too much.

-CK
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2347
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
301
hugelkultur forest garden fungi trees books food preservation bike solar woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Chris K:

Another good way of telling if the creosote is still present is if the wood isn't decomposing in a situation where it otherwise would. Decomposers won't touch the stuff if it's toxic.

 While it is true that the purpose of creosote on the ties is to retard decomposition, the presence of decomposer organisms does not indicate that the toxins have been fully eliminated, just that decomposition of the woody tissues has begun.  If a qualified person is re-mediating a toxic site with fungi, for instance, the presence of the fungi on the toxic area does not signify that it is now safe to grow organic (non-toxic) fruits, vegetables, and herbs; it merely indicates that the process has potentially begun toward that end.  The only way of telling if there are no toxins present, is with appropriate tests of the material and the surrounding soils.  Making such assumptions could lead to serious health problems, from my understanding.  

Hi Miles:

Not sure if the old ties were treated the same way or if they are just so old that the treatment has worn off, but some of them no longer smell and are dry and grey.  

From what I understand, modern creosote is a petrochemical product (made from coal tar and oil tar) which dramatically increases the toxicity of something that was already bad (wood creosote is also toxic, and by the time the railways were built the superior coal product was generally used rather than the inferior wood based product).  When a person paints a fence with oil or stain, some of the oils penetrate, and some is on the surface.  The stuff on the surface needs to be renewed occasionally as the sun will draw some of it out and other weathering agents (oxygen, wind, rain, critters) will break the substance down or wash it away.  Despite it seeming inert to our dulled senses, there are still toxins (and likely some smell) present in the inner layers of wood.  Only proper testing would tell, but I doubt that creosote wood looses it's toxicity fully by just losing it's surface color.   Some of it definitely wears off in time and biology always seems to have a way of making use of it in the end despite our desire to make things last.  I just wouldn't ever recommend that anybody ever use railway ties, or as they are known in other places: sleepers.  They are just not worth the risk.    

Again, if there was no potential liability issue attached to the stuff, the railway would never be taking the precautions that they are now.  They know that they are now liable, and have to take these measures.  If they didn't have legal medical challenges to the practice of using these ties without appropriate protection for their workers, they would have us handling them and not worrying about it (as had been done forever-Business As Usual), and certainly not wiping the stuff off the soles of our work boots!  It's nasty crap, and I suspect/assume that there are so many retiring Baby Boomer railroaders (particularly Tie Gang laborers) who are coming down with acute toxicity that is being traced directly to creosote ties that they had to take these measures.    
 
pollinator
Posts: 3239
690
transportation cat duck trees rabbit books chicken woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
DO NOT USE THEM!

I worked for the railroad for 10 years, like my Grandfather and Grandmother before me...

Here in the United States, a wooden railroad tie is considered hazardous material as soon as it is removed off a railroad right of way, that is why you often see them piled up in huge piles along the tracks. As soon as they are moved, they have to be treated as hazardous material and must be incinerated. That is why they cannot be sold to the general public.

The reason they do this is simple; if they did not allow them to be on the railroad right of way, the cost of cleanup would be so expensive that every railroad would go out of business. As for the right of way itself, just about every one would be considered a superfund site considering the 150 years or more those ties have been leaching into the soil, not to mention leaking oil and diesel fuel from locomotives, spilled cars, and human manure being dropped onto it from the passenger cars. (No I am not making that last one up, it was common practice up until the 1980's).

As a welder for 23 years, being constantly around x-ray testing of my welds, the last 3 years of my life have been miserable trying to beat cancer.

1 out of 5 kids gets cancer, would you want to tell them you got a good deal on building materials 10 years from now?

Do you really want to build a home out of what is scientifically proven to be a carcinogen? Kids should be playing with their Build-A-Bear, not wishing they had hair and had played with Dudley Furskin instead of railroad ties as a child.










Do you really want that? Considering 20% of kids get cancer, do you really want that
Metropolis-Bridge-3.jpg
[Thumbnail for Metropolis-Bridge-3.jpg]
 
Posts: 44
Location: Southeast Brazil
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Dustin Rhodes wrote:

Robert, what is the railway replacing these toxic ties with when they are damaged?? Is there another material/product, or does the railway just continue on with it as a "necessary evil"?



Hier in Brazil they're replacing them with recycled plastic ties. Not the ideal way but better than creosot.
http://www.strail.de/index.php?id=1244&L=19

There's even a few people selling second hand plastic ties on the internet.
 
No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. This time, do it with this tiny ad:
Taylor&Zach’s Bootcamp Journey
https://permies.com/t/115886/permaculture-projects/Taylor-Zach-Bootcamp-Journey
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!