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Types of Rail Sleepers and Their Main Features

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Railway construction involves three common rail sleepers: steel rail sleepers, wood rail sleepers, and concrete rail sleepers. Rail sleepers have seen development from ages starting with wooden sleepers being the main rails in use, especially for bridges and heavy rail systems.

With increased awareness about environmental conservation, there was a high need to seek other materials to be used as rail sleepers. Gradual development with technical requirements has seen the emergence of a variety of materials including rubber, concrete, and steel.

Learn the different features of the three main rail sleeper types.

Wood Rail Sleepers

This is the most used type of sleeper in the railway transport system today. The reason is that wood has an ability of displaying good elasticity and high tenancy. Wood rail sleepers have many features such as light weight ability, excellent insulation properties, simple processing requirements, little temperature influence, good flexibility, and easy replacement. Wood sleepers can be further divided into three categories; the bridge sleeper, the turnout sleeper, and the ordinary wooden sleeper.

Advantages of wood rail sleepers include the following:

  • Have lower production costs
  • Easy to handle due to its lightweight hence not susceptible to damages
  • Gauge adjustment is quite easy
  • Has a good track circuiting and electrical system

Concrete Rail Sleepers

There are endless benefits of using concrete sleepers including their longer life span, minimal maintenance demands, high stability, and low damage hence low scrap rates. Concrete rail sleepers are mainly used for high speed railways due to their higher stability. However, they have some disadvantages when compared to wooden types including their heavy weight nature.

Advantages of concrete rail sleepers include the following:

  • Able to offer higher traverse and longitudinal stability
  • Applicable in areas that are track circuited
  • Reliable for modern methods of track maintenance
  • Not susceptible to instances of pest attack, fire hazards and corrosion
  • Easily maintained in terms of its alignment, cross level and gauge

Steel Rail Sleepers

These types of rail sleepers are normally used as a middle ground between the concrete and wooden rail types. They are studier than wood rails and are generally less expensive than the concrete types. This option comes in as a saviour for most countries that seek an economical track upgrade. Their use has a lesser reliance on trees hence conserves the environment. There is also less reliance on ballast making them a bit cheaper.

Advantages of steel rail sleepers include the following:

  • Have a longer life span
  • Offers a smooth railway system
  • Not susceptible to vermin attacks
  • Display an excellent scrap value
  • Can be recycled back to use