What Are The Dimensions of a Railroad Tie?

All things on this planet have experienced evolution, whether it’s natural or man-made. Trains and railways are prime examples of structures that have seen enhancements for improved functionality.

In 1804, Richard Trevithick built the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive in the United Kingdom. Over the years, engineers have changed how these locomotives work, and we even have electric trains.

The railways have also taken different shapes to conform to regional and international standards. Only stone and wooden rail ties were common back then, but today we even have plastic sleepers. 

However, today we will not be discussing the construction of these railway lines. Instead, our interest in the dimensions of stuff guides our discovery of the dimensions of railroad ties, as explained below.

Standard Railroad Tie Sizes

Railroad ties are wooden structures that act as anchors for the rails above them. Earlier, these platforms were made of wood, but today most rail ties are rubber or concrete. The rail tracks are attached in a particular line to ensure the railroad ties are standard in size.

The standard railroad tie is 8.5 feet (259 cm), but in special cases, the length could be extended to spread the weight of the rails over a wider surface area. Longer ties in areas with soft grounds and rail stability could be a concern.

The width of a standard railroad tie is nine inches wide and seven inches tall. However, the rails might not be identical because the millings might vary in size. The maximum size is 12 by 9 inches (30.5 by 23 cm).

Wooden Railroad Ties Dimensions

Geschweisster schienenstoss.jpeg
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Wooden ties were originally introduced to replace the rudimentary stone construction years ago because of their flexibility. Wooden ties are made from hardwood because they are sturdier and more durable and have become quite popular in construction.

Typically, wooden railroad ties measure 8-10 inches thick and 8-10 feet (244-304 cm) long. These dimensions may, however, vary due to regional requirements. Their construction also made them last for between 30 and 40 years. Some popular wood options for building ties include oak, elm, walnut, chestnut, etc.

Concrete Ties Dimensions

Concrete sleeper 1638.JPG
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Concrete ties were introduced recently due to their extended durability when exposed to harsh weather conditions. They can last for between 30 and 50 years, depending on the quality of the product and environmental conditions.

Concrete ties also have a lower tie-per-mile ratio than wooded 2640:3250. This is because concrete ties are thicker and longer than most rail tie materials. A standard concrete tie is 11 in by 8.5 in (28 cm by 22 cm) thick and 101 8.5 ft. (259 cm) long.

Steel Ties Dimensions

Pine Creek Rail Steel Sleepers DSC03637.jpg
By Yewenyi at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Steel ties are box or convex in design and are mostly used to minimize the amount of ballast needed to build a structurally sound tie bed. The design considerations make it easy to ship the products because they are easy to stack. Steel ties also boast of extended lifespans. These ties are 8.5 feet (259 cm) long and might be longer in some specialized cases. This length allows the weight distribution of the rails over a larger surface area.

In addition, steel ties can be wider than wooden ties measuring 7 by 9 inches (18 by 23 cm) up to 12 inches (30 cm).

Plastic Rail Ties Dimensions

KLP Hybrid Plastic Sleeper.JPG
CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Today, some companies sell composite railroad ties built from recycled plastic resins and rubber. They are claimed to have longer life expectancies than wooden tiles, between 30 and 80 years. They can also be improved using special relief at the bottom to provide additional lateral stability.

In addition, they are protected from rotting and insect infestation. Standard plastic rail ties are 8 by 6 inches wide and 8 feet (243 cm) long. They are also lighter and weigh around 25 pounds (11 kg).

Y-Steel Rail Ties Dimensions

Gleise y normal stahlschwellen.jpg
Y tie track next to conventional track.
By Michael Meding CC BY 2.5, Link

The Y-steel sleeper\tier is a special tie used today in rail setups with limited space. The shape of the ties can be challenging because they need special machinery to lay in a rotating mechanism. However, these tires are great for routes with high and low axle loads where even speeds could vary.

These pieces of metal are flatter and can be up to 80 inches (203 cm) long and 7 inches (18 cm) wide.

Bi-Block Ties Dimensions

Bi-block/twin block ties are built by combining two concrete rail sleepers using a steel bar. These ties have more lateral resistance and weight than single-block concrete ties. They also do not experience damage from the tensional force due to the steel connections. These blocks are about 2 feet long and 8 by 9 inches (20 by 23 cm) thick.

The steel connectors are slimmer and can reach 4 feet (10 cm) long and 6 inches (15 cm) wide. These tracks are rarely considered for global standards and are common in France.

Wide Tie Dimensions

Concrete monoblock ties are built in wider variations than standard railway ties. They can be over 8 feet (243 cm) long and 22½ inches (57 cm) wide. This sleeper eradicates the need for ballast between the ties and increases lateral resistance while reducing ballast pressure.

The system is common in Germany, where ballastless track systems are used.

What is the Distance between Rails on a Tie?

Rails on a rail tie are placed 4’ 8.5” (146 cm) away from each other. This is the standard gauge which is the common unit used in the world. These dimensions mostly apply to rail ties over 6 feet long (183 cm). In the US, the safety standards indicate that standard gauge railways should be 4’8″ to 4′ 9″ for operating trains up to 60 mph (97km/h).

Tie Spacing on a Rail

When it comes to installing rail ties, some spacing standards must be followed. There should be around 3000 ties on a railway line on a one-mile stretch. Each sleeper should be around 18-21 inches (46-53 cm) from the other. This spacing must also consider the weight distribution depending on the sleeper and underlying ground type.

Steel and concrete sleepers can use spacing up to 21 inches (53 cm), while wood and plastic can maintain an 18-inch (46 cm) space between each other.

How Many Ties Does a Rail Have?

There are two main types of rail lines used to construct railways. The standard is the 45-foot (14 m) and the 60-foot (18 m). In a 45-foot rail, the spacing of ties should be between 2’7” (7 cm) apart, meaning it takes around 18 sleepers to cover this length.

In a 60-foot rail, the spacing of ties is 2’7” (7 cm), and it takes around 24 tiers to cover the distance.

Besides learning about the dimensions of railroad ties, you also get to learn about the different ties available.

These dimensions are commonly used globally as the construction standard, but they can change depending on where you are. However, you can still use the measurements as a reference point for the various sleepers.

Originally posted on September 16, 2022 @ 10:46 am