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Question DetailsAsked on 12/23/2014

I would like to know more about building a new stamped concrete wall in front of a railroad tie terraced wall

In my back property I have a hill that has a couple levels of terracing done with creosote treated railroad ties. The wall was built at least 25 years ago. The top Timbers have deteriorated and need to be replaced or the soil will start to spill over. Each Terrace is about 35-40" tall. there are a couple levels of .these walls, stepping backward up the hill. The landscaping boxes created by this step effectt gives each box about 40 inches front to back in depth For the stability of the hill and also for the asthetics of the property I'm interested in affordably building a stamp concrete wall in front of the railroad tie walls. Am I saving myself anytime or aggravation over the long haul? Any resources would be appreciated thank you

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I think you would be spending a LOT more money than you want, especially if this is just a slope protection and not supporting a fence or building or road or such at the top of the hill. Unfortunately, putting in a retaining wall in front without removing the ties is asking for trouble because as they rot they will leave large voids and thereby remove a good portion of the soil support behind the retaining wall - either causing the wall to lean backwards and crack, and/or leaving sinkholes that will be a pain to fill over the say 6-7 foot high wall) and possibly dangerous because the way they open up will likely be when a person or large animal (dog, deer, elk, moose, etc) steps in them and breaks a leg. Trying to do this with several tiered concrete walls sounds like an invitation to trouble too - at least the top one would be very likely to tilt over time unless dug down to near the level of the bottom of the slope for its foundation, so by the time you are done you will have torn the entire hillside up. If going to that trouble and cost, you might as well then remove the hillside and put in a large permanent counterfort or cantilevered concrete retaining wall further back and gain that square footage as usable drive or yard area if you don't want the slope planters. Even putting in just 3-4' high walls in front of the tie means digging down far enough to provide a stable foundation so the ties would basically have to come out for that anyway.


I would say google search phrases like this - images for garden retaining walls - or - images for slope protection - or - images for lanscape walls and look at your alternatives. There are a lot of cheaper and probably more attractive ways to do this, and keep the slope accessible and usable for plantings. Also, places like the magazine websites of Birds and Blooms, Better Homes and Gardens, Sunset, Homebuilder and similar magazines and online sites like Pinterest, This Old House, and Hometime have more ideas than you can begin to look at.


A smattering of alternatives that come to mind that I have done or seen, most of which do not involve tearing the heck out of the hillside if done carefully:

1) just replace the top ties - probably most economical solution

2) just take out top ties and fill on slope angle - assuming it is vegetated with well-rooted plants, unless a soft or wet clay or loose sand slope at about 40 degree slope (as I figure it - about 6' rise per 7 feet into hillside) - it will likely, with the existing root reinforcement, stand at the same angle even without the top ties - at most it will probably slump to hillside slope (if you don't add fill over the ties) over the top of the ties anyway. Of course, depending on what is right in front of the slope you might or might not want ot chance it - especially if a building is right there.

3) cover the front of the ties if you want - draping over vegetation from the top like Snow in Summer, Bishops Weed, Ivy, Iceplant, trailing moss, ground geraniums, Blue Rug Juniper or such (depending on your locale). Or just cut and nail the ready-made store-bought cedar lattice over it - flush at top or sticking up as desired - and use for support for climbing plants. Or plant concealing plants in front like small evergreens or bushes.

4) remove the rotten top tie on each stack, and just place a cap of concrete landscape pavers or landscape retaining wall blocks one course high on top to replace the one removed and support the back slope - easily adjusted and shimmed up with dirt as the successive ties rot away

5) remove top tie and replace with planter boxes made of treated timber - 2x8 to 2x12 ground-contact treated wood, or just use remaining ties as base for individual planter pots - can place on walk pavers or decorative stone layer if you want to conceal the top of the ties

6) remove ties entirely and replace with landscape block, dry stacked or grouted retaining walls (generally about half the cost of cast-in-place concrete, and easy to DIY)

7) replace ties with rock-filled wire gabions (rock filled galvanized wire baskets forming retaining wall) and plant with vegetation that likes rocky areas and will climb on or trail over bare rock

8) remove rotten top ties and just replace with ground-contact treated timbers of similar or smaller size - if need to fasten in, drill 1/2" holes (and treat holes and any cut ends at least, or better yet entire timber, with touchup treatment solution) and drive in 1/2" rebar through timber and about 2-3 feet into underlying ties or dirt to hold in place

9) remove ties and fill hole left with packed general fill, and cover slope with slope stabilization fabric if you think it is going to try to erode or ravel - planting either with grass or planting with slope-stabilization and erosion protection plants like iceplant or ivy (assuming you are willing to control its growth) or low shrubs or junipers or such

10) remove top tie and cover entire slope with rock or gravel as erosion protection - prefereably with interspersed shrubs or small trees to provide root to hold the slope.


In considering above alternatives,, be sure to get a utility locate to be sure there are no utilities buried there - could radically change your plans, because digging up utilities gets expensive


BTW - put the search word - railroad - in the Ask box to look at other prior questions on using or replacing railroad ties - especially the part about environmental restrictions on using them in some areas (like California), and potential disposal costs as hazardous waste. Check with local landfill operator website on rules. In some areas they have special disposal requirements, some landfills will accept household amounts from homeowners at standard disposal rate (or even free) but in some others only 1 tie or only 40-50 pounds per visit, in some areas contractors can get rid of residential sourced ties at landfill but in others they have to take to hazardous waste site for disposal at high costs. So it may well turn out that a solution not involving getting rid of the ties will be most viable for that reason alone. Course, except in a few states that require disposal as hazardous waste once they are torn out, reusing them as a yard border or leaf stopper or parking bumper or surface drainage curb under the edge of a deck or such onsite use is legal and a viable alternative. Or as a hillside top crest border.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD




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