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The Importance of Retaining Walls: Purpose, Benefits, and Cost Analysis for Concrete vs. Railroad Ties

picture of retaing wall
Retaining Wall Made With Rail Road Ties

Retaining walls are more than just functional structures; they are vital components in landscape architecture and civil engineering. Whether you're managing soil erosion, creating level spaces on a sloped property, or adding aesthetic appeal to your yard, retaining walls play a crucial role. In this blog post, we'll explore the importance and purpose of retaining walls, and provide a detailed cost analysis for replacing a retaining wall using concrete versus railroad ties.

Retaining walls serve several essential functions, including:

Erosion Control: One of the primary purposes of retaining walls is to prevent soil erosion. By holding back soil, these structures reduce the risk of landslides and soil displacement, especially in areas with significant rainfall or water runoff.

Creating Usable Space: In hilly or sloped areas, retaining walls create flat, usable spaces for gardening, patios, or play areas. This maximizes the functional space in your yard and enhances its overall utility.

Aesthetic Appeal: Retaining walls can add a touch of elegance to your landscape. With various design options available, from natural stone to modern concrete, retaining walls can complement and enhance the aesthetic of your property.

Structural Support: Retaining walls provide essential support for vertical grade changes, preventing the collapse of higher ground onto lower areas. This is particularly important in construction and landscaping projects where stability is crucial.

Water Management: By controlling water flow and runoff, retaining walls help to manage drainage issues, reducing the risk of flooding and water damage to your property.

Cost Analysis: Concrete vs. Railroad Ties

When it comes to replacing a retaining wall, two popular materials are concrete and railroad ties. Each has its advantages and cost implications.

Concrete Retaining Walls


  • Durability: Concrete retaining walls are incredibly durable and can last for decades with minimal maintenance.

  • Strength: Concrete offers superior strength, making it ideal for larger, more complex projects.

  • Versatility: Concrete can be molded into various shapes and finishes, offering design flexibility.


  • Cost: Initial costs can be higher compared to other materials.

  • Installation: Requires skilled labor and proper equipment for installation.

Cost Breakdown:

  • Materials: The cost of concrete blocks or poured concrete can range from $10 to $25 per square foot, depending on the design and quality.

  • Labor: Professional installation typically costs between $30 to $60 per square foot, including site preparation and finishing.

  • Total Estimated Cost: For a 100 square foot wall, the total cost would be approximately $4,000 to $8,500.

Railroad Tie Retaining Walls


  • Cost-Effective: Railroad ties are generally cheaper than concrete.

  • Rustic Appeal: They offer a rustic, natural look that can blend well with certain landscapes.

  • Ease of Installation: Easier to install than concrete, often suitable for DIY projects.


  • Durability: Railroad ties are less durable and can deteriorate over time, especially in wet conditions.

  • Maintenance: They require more maintenance and may need to be replaced sooner.

  • Environmental Concerns: Treated railroad ties can leach chemicals into the soil, posing environmental and health risks.

Cost Breakdown:

  • Materials: The cost of railroad ties ranges from $20 to $30 each. For a 100 square foot wall, you might need around 50 to 60 ties, totaling $1,000 to $1,800.

  • Labor: Professional installation costs about $20 to $40 per square foot. DIY installation can save money but requires significant effort.

  • Total Estimated Cost: For a 100 square foot wall, the total cost would be approximately $3,000 to $5,000, including materials and labor.


Retaining walls are indispensable for managing soil erosion, creating functional spaces, and enhancing the beauty and stability of your property. When considering the replacement of a retaining wall, it's essential to weigh the benefits and costs of different materials. Concrete offers durability and strength, making it a long-term investment, while railroad ties provide a cost-effective and rustic alternative but with potential maintenance and environmental concerns.

By understanding the purpose and benefits of retaining walls and conducting a thorough cost analysis, you can make an informed decision that meets your needs and budget, ensuring the longevity and functionality of your landscape.

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