Lawn & Garden Landscaping

How Much Does a Railroad Tie Retaining Wall Cost to Build? (2024 Guide)

Railroad ties are often reused as a cost-effective material for residential retaining walls. The average railroad tie retaining wall costs $2,200, but the typical range is from $2,000 to $2,400.
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A view of a railroad tie retaining wall against a verdant backdrop.

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  • The typical cost range to build a railroad tie retaining wall falls between $2,000 and $2,400, while the national average cost is $2,200.
  • The main factors that affect the total cost of this project include the size and design of the wall, the slope and location of the installation, the costs for planning and permits, site preparation, and labor costs.
  • A railroad tie retaining wall has several notable benefits, including cost effectiveness, easy installation, improved aesthetics, and durability.
  • A small railroad tie retaining wall may be a suitable DIY project for those with the right tools and experience. However, larger walls or complicated installations are best left in the hands of an experienced professional.
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Installing a retaining wall is a great way to landscape a yard, create planters for flower beds, and reinforce soil around a home that may be eroding due to rainfall or other issues. Many homeowners use railroad ties as a material for their retaining walls.

According to Angi, the national average railroad tie retaining wall cost is $2,200 based on an 80-square-foot railroad tie, but costs typically range from $2,000 to $2,400. The final retaining wall rate depends on many factors, including the size and design of the wall, the wall’s slope and location, fees for planning and any required permits, site preparation, and labor. 

Although a railroad tie retaining wall is a cost-effective option, there is some risk with using this material. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), traditional wood railroad ties treated with creosote pose health and environmental risks. Some areas even ban railroad ties for use as retaining wall material. For homeowners looking for similar retaining wall ideas, there are several modern alternatives to a railroad tie wall, such as walls made of untreated wood or recycled plastic. Homeowners will want to familiarize themselves with the cost of using railroad ties as a retaining wall, the benefits of this type of wall, and the feasibility of building retaining walls as a possible DIY project or the need to hire a pro instead.

A view of a railroad tie retaining wall.

Key Cost Factors

Several factors can affect retaining wall prices. Costs may vary from the national average due to the wall’s size, design, slope, and location as well as the cost for a professional to draft plans, permit fees, site preparation, and labor.

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Wall Size and Design

The larger the wall, the higher the railroad tie retaining wall cost, especially for walls that require reinforcement and a solid foundation. The wall’s design can also impact the total cost. Simple designs tend to be the most affordable, while elaborate designs that use curves, steps, openings, or flower beds take longer to install and therefore cost more. There are several common railroad tie sizes and average cost ranges.

Wall SizeAverage Cost (Materials and Labor)
10 linear feet$500 to $1,800
15 linear feet$750 to $2,700
20 linear feet$1,000 to $3,600
25 linear feet$1,250 to $4,500
30 linear feet$1,500 to $5,400
50 linear feet$2,500 to $9,000
100 linear feet$5,000 to $18,000
150 linear feet$7,500 to $27,000

Wall Slope and Location

In most cases, it’s more difficult to build a wall on a slope. Labor costs can increase by as much as 50 percent when homeowners are installing a railroad tie retaining wall on sloped land. This typically requires excavation of the area and regrading to ensure a structurally sound wall. Costs may also increase when a retaining wall is being built on unstable or rocky soil. This requires extra work and time to make sure the dirt can support the weight of the wall.

Planning and Permits

When landscaping with railroad ties, homeowners may need to hire a structural engineer or a landscape architect to draft plans. Structural engineers typically charge $100 to $200 per hour, and homeowners can expect to spend between $300 and $3,000 on the project. Depending on its size, the retaining wall may also require permits. Building permit costs vary by area but range anywhere from $60 to $500. Homeowners will need to check with their local building office to ask whether their project requires a permit.

Site Preparation

The contractor will need to prepare the site, which may include excavation, tree removal, a drainage addition, and the installation of footings.

Excavation costs depend on the scale of the project but generally range from $50 to $200 per cubic yard. Removing trees from a yard to make room for a retaining wall can cost $150 to $2,000 per tree. If the wall is over 4 feet tall, it may require footings that spread the wall’s weight over a larger area; this can cost $18 to $55 per linear foot. Finally, retaining walls may require drainage to keep the wall sturdy and prevent pooling and flooding. This installation costs $1 to $2 per square foot.

Preparation ProjectAverage Cost (Materials and Labor)
Drainage installation$1 to $2 per square foot
Excavation$50 to $200 per cubic yard
Footings installation$18 to $55 per linear foot
Tree removal$150 to $2,000 per tree


Most contractors charge $50 to $75 per hour. If the wall’s location requires excavation or if the wall has a complex design, the overall cost of labor could increase. Simple projects can take as little as six hours to complete, while more difficult projects can take several days. 

A railroad tie retaining wall under construction.

Additional Costs and Considerations

When homeowners are budgeting for a retaining wall with railroad ties, it’s helpful to know about any additional costs and considerations that could increase the retaining wall cost per foot. Below are factors that can impact the final retaining wall cost.

  • Reinforcements. Walls over 4 feet tall require steel rebar reinforcements, although local building codes may differ. Reinforcements cost $2.50 to $5 per square foot.
  • Foundation. Walls over 4 feet tall also require footing to create a foundation. Homeowners can expect to pay $18 to $55 per linear foot. 
  • Drainage. Most retaining walls require drainage to prevent soil erosion. Adding a drainage system can cost between $2,100 and $6,500, but a basic system costs as little as $500.
  • Backfill. After excavating, the contractor may need to backfill with soil. Backfilling helps compact the soil to prevent settling and destabilizing. This costs $5 to $30 per cubic yard.
  • Additional landscaping. Homeowners can choose to add additional features to their railroad tie retaining wall. For example, landscape lighting costs $2,000 to $6,000, while the cost of planting a tree ranges from $100 to $2,000.

Benefits of Building a Railroad Tie Retaining Wall

Building a railroad tie retaining wall comes with several advantages. Not only is this material cheaper than others, but it’s easy to install and is durable, and it can help boost a home’s curb appeal.

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Cost Effectiveness

Thanks to the widespread use of railroad ties in railway construction, the cost of railroad ties is much lower than the cost of other materials used for retaining walls. Higher-end materials such as steel and natural stone cost as much as $100 per square foot, while homeowners will pay $27.50 per square foot for railroad crossties. This cost advantage makes railroad ties in landscaping an attractive option for larger projects when homeowners are working with a smaller budget.

“Railroad ties are usually pretty easy to source,” says Rafi Friedman, president of Coastal Luxury Outdoors in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. “Landscaping companies usually get them as surplus from construction projects, meaning they’re especially affordable materials.”

Easy Installation

Railroad ties are heavy, but they’re easier to work with than other materials. They’re typically uniform in size and shape, which helps simplify their handling and placement. They can also be cut, stacked horizontally, and secured with spikes or rebar, which requires a few common tools that some homeowners may already have on hand.

Improved Aesthetics

Railroad ties are a great option for those who prefer a rustic look. They have an earthy tone and a weathered texture that can help give the home’s exterior a more rugged appearance while adding dimension to the yard with tiered landscaping. The natural color palette can also complement a wide range of landscaping designs and architectural styles and allow the retaining wall to integrate seamlessly into the background. 


Railroad ties are sturdy and long-lasting, and they rarely need replacing. “They’re also heavily treated with preservatives, meaning that they’ll last for a long time despite being made out of wood,” Friedman says.

Manufacturers apply creosote and heavy petroleum oil during the processing and treatment of wood crossties to prevent wood deterioration from fungi and insects. The timbers are also pressure-treated to further protect the wood from rotting, making the wood more durable than untreated wood. Most railroad tie retaining walls last 20 to 30 years. However, walls with frequent exposure to rain, runoff, and high levels of moisture may require replacement sooner.

A railroad tie retaining wall under construction with a worker using a tool.

DIY vs. Hiring a Professional 

It’s possible for homeowners to build a smaller wall themselves. Most locations that sell landscaping supplies will have railroad ties as well as other tools and materials required for the project. There are typically three standard railroad tie dimensions: 8 feet, 8 feet 6 inches, and 9 feet, although the most common dimensions of railroad ties for landscaping are 8-foot, 6-inch ties. After planning and designing the wall, homeowners will need to clear the area of debris and then excavate, level, clearly mark the location of the wall with wood stakes and a mason’s line, and lay the foundation. Next, the ties will need to be cut to size, stacked, and secured with spikes or rebar. It’s important to note that attempting to build a large wall is not recommended. A larger, complex retaining wall could require permits, and a professional may have to submit plans to the local building office. Building a retaining wall also requires construction knowledge, and any mistakes can lead to the need for expensive fixes and retaining wall repair.

“For anything over about 2 feet in height, I usually recommend going with professionals to make sure the job is done right the first time,” Friedman explains. “Erosion and slumping can knock down a poorly made retaining wall in a year or two.” Homeowners will want to keep in mind that some locations require a structural engineer to design a retaining wall and a professional to build it. Also, many areas have banned the use of creosote-treated wood on residential properties. If railroad ties aren’t banned, homeowners will want to avoid using them near garden areas or drinking water sources.

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Financing Options and Money-Saving Tips

Building a retaining wall can be costly, but it’s still possible to save money. Consider these ideas for reducing railroad tie retaining wall costs.

  • Get multiple quotes. Get at least three quotes from the best masonry contractors (such as The Home Depot).
  • Choose a simple design. Complex designs take longer to build and can increase the cost of the project. Choose a straight wall, and limit the number of stairs and openings.
  • Keep it small. Make sure the retaining wall is under 4 feet high. Large walls will require structural support, which increases the price.
  • Do as much DIY as possible. Save money by performing smaller tasks yourself, such as clearing debris where the wall will be built and landscaping around the retaining wall after installation.
  • Negotiate. Some contractors are willing to negotiate or bundle projects together at a reduced rate, so see if you can agree on a lower price.

Another option is to finance the entire project and pay it off over time. Keep in mind that most financing options are more expensive in the long run due to interest charges and other fees. Here are some ideas.

  • Credit card. Homeowners can finance their railroad tie retaining wall using a credit card, preferably with a 0 percent introductory interest rate. Consider making larger monthly payments to pay off the loan before the introductory period ends.
  • Personal loan. The best personal loans typically have quick funding speeds, but interest rates may be higher than other financing options. Check with several lenders to see which one offers the best rates before applying for a personal loan.
  • Home equity line of credit (HELOC). Tap into your home’s equity to fund the project by working with one of the best HELOC lenders. A HELOC is a type of second mortgage that gives homeowners access to cash as a line of credit, typically at lower interest rates than other options. 

Questions to Ask a Pro

Asking the right questions can lead to a better outcome and save money. There are several key questions a homeowner will want to ask an expert about building a railroad tie retaining wall.

  • Are you licensed and insured?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • How much experience do you have with this type of project?
  • Can you provide examples of your work?
  • Do you offer additional landscaping services?
  • Do you have references?
  • What’s included in the estimate?
  • Do I need a building permit, and if so, will you pull it?
  • What is your timeline for the project?
  • Who will be my point of contact?
  • Who will supervise the project?
  • Who will build the wall?
  • Do you guarantee your work?
  • Are there any factors that might affect the cost?
  • What payment methods do you accept?


It’s normal to have questions and concerns about a big landscaping project. The following are frequently asked questions to help homeowners better understand the process.

Q. How long will a railroad tie retaining wall last?

Most railroad tie retaining walls last between 20 and 30 years. However, if they are often exposed to rain, runoff, and high moisture levels, they may require replacement sooner. A sturdy base, steel reinforcements, and a drainage system can also ensure a longer lifespan.

Q. Do railroad ties attract termites?

Railroad ties are typically pressure-treated and contain creosote, which helps prevent damage from insects. However, railroad ties will eventually break down. Nearby termites will feed on any rotting wood they find on the ground.

Q. Should I put gravel under railroad ties?

It’s recommended that homeowners put down a foundational layer of gravel before building the railroad tie retaining wall. This also provides bottom drainage for the wall, allowing water to drain through the gravel instead of shifting the ties or leading dirt away from the wall.

Q. What is the maximum height of a railroad tie retaining wall?

Most railroad tie retaining walls are between 3 and 4 feet tall. Walls can go higher, but they should never exceed 6 feet in height. Higher walls require reinforcements, and this puts additional pressure on the ground, which can cause damage to the surrounding landscape.

Angi, University of Kentucky