This online article says

Soviet Union had a different gauge rail network and the Germans operated much heavier trains than the Russians, so when the Germans invaded they had to rebuild or modify the lines everywhere they went. Some of them were converted to standard gauge by moving the rails. The Germans replaced the Russian wooden sleepers with steel sleepers...

It has a lot of photos and talks about the Rail Plough used to destroy railroads as they retreated. However, I question the use of steel sleepers. Steel was surely much more expensive and rare than wood.

And there must be 1,000 or more sleepers per km of track, and Germany penetrated almost 1,000 km into the Soviet Union during Barbarossa. Would Germany really be spending that much steel, when they could just use wood?

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    Speculation: If they used steel ties it was most likely salvaged locally and not shipped out from Germany. Steel in that case would have been cheaper and faster. It seems likely that other rails could have been salvaged for this use - laying the running rails over sleepers made from cut up rails.
    – herb guy
    Mar 7, 2018 at 7:24
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    It looks like the author mixed up WWI (where Germans indeed used steel ties to build (not necessary replace) some roads in occupied territories) and WWII (steel ties started to be replaced with concrete ties before that in Germany itself). It is possible that steel ties were used at some intervals of some roads (e.g. reusing old ties from German roads) but their wide usage is very unlikely. It seems like the author just did not bother to find any detailed info in this regard as the main subject of his article was that Schwellenpflug, so he just fills the gaps with guesswork. Mar 7, 2018 at 8:05
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    Keep in mind that sleepers aren't just any wood. It has to be treated with various chemicals that may be hard to find. Actually the first steel power pole in Sweden was actually put in place during WW2 due to shortages (when it later was replaced it was with a wood pole).
    – liftarn
    Mar 7, 2018 at 8:22
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    I remember reading that one of the major logistical problems for supplying the German front troops was that they had to unload the German-gauge trains and re-load the supplies on the Russian-gauge trains. And I know that Germany was about as starved for steel as it was starved for oil, making the notion somewhat unlikely... then again, German bureaucracy did some other rather inefficient things...
    – DevSolar
    Mar 7, 2018 at 11:59
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    Wood only needs treatment if you wish it to last more then a few years. Jul 17, 2018 at 8:11


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