Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Seeing the Forest for the Crossties

Fears concerning dwindling natural resources is not a new problem. In the great age of rail. railroad construction and maintenance created an unquenchable thirst for lumber. Railroads needed over 2,500 crossties per mile to support their tracks. They also used large amounts of timber for bridges as well as pilings, telegraph poles, snow fences, fuelwood for the camps, cribbing, tunnel timbers, fuel, corduroy roads, railroad buildings, and railroad cars. Many small sawmills sprang up along railroad routes to supply these needs. Untreated ties last a maximum of 5 years. By the 1880s, keeping up with railroad maintenance was the equivalent to replacing the ties on 50,000 miles of track annually by harvesting 15 to 20 million acres of forest. As the end of the 19th century approached, railroads were expected to consume all the trees of the vast North American forests in less than a decade.

At first, only bridge supports were treated with wood preservation methods because the cost was prohibitive. After advances in chemical treatment led to cost reductions, the Santa Fe became the first North American railroad to treat ties regularly in 1885. A creosote treated wood tie installed today has an estimated life span of 40 years.

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