S shaped metal on Railroad tie ends?

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Rick A

While hiking along a Rail Trail in Maine last week and I was noticing a metal "S" stamped into the ends of the old ties. No one in my group had any idea why they were on the ties. I thought it might have something to do with the are of the old train lines (Saco). I did some research when I was back home and found this site.
Railway Ties Association. Thanks, RTA for claring it up for me.


They all have S-shaped bands hammered into the both ends of the tie. Do you know what these are called and what they are used for? The S shaped bands are called S-Irons and were once applied to ties to minimize end splitting.
Indeed there are concrete ties, with reinforcing steel rods and/or steel cables under tension cast into the concrete in a mold. They aren't subject to moisture and rot, provided a suitable quality cement is chosen (Florida East Coast RR had a bad experience with this and ground up oyster shells used as ballast material) A rubber or plastic pad is used as a cushion for the rails to directly lay on, so that impact loads from flats on wheels don't crack the ties. Instead of spikes, bolts or spring-like clips fasten the rail in place. Entire concrete beds are also used, mostly in transit systems, and some railroad crossings and bridge decks.

There are also ties made entirely of steel, not sure why these are much less common as they should be very strong. I've also heard of 'composition' ties made of recycled plastics and rubber; I think these are still experimental.

Ties are used to hold track gauge and spread weight and dynamic loads of moving trains into the tamped ballast.

Rick A

Thanks for the info Damon. I'm curious as to which type might be the least expensive, as costs always seem to determine which one is used.
I'd expect wood ties (but not premium hardwoods) to be the lowest cost. Cost is also determined by life under loads. In somewhat contradictory fashion, I've observed BNSF to use concrete on sidings and in rail yards locally, yet retain wooden ties for a very busy mainline in many locations. I would guess steel ties come inbetween in cost, but I rarely see them. Composite ties still seem to be experimental.

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