The main functions of sleepers are as follows.
(a) Holding the rails in their correct gauge and alignment
(b) Giving a firm and even support to the rails
(c) Transferring the load evenly from the rails to a wider area of the ballast
(d) Acting as an elastic medium between the rails and the ballast to absorb the blows and vibrations caused by moving loads
(e) Providing longitudinal and lateral stability to the permanent way
(f) Providing the means to rectify the track geometry during their service life.
Apart from performing these functions the ideal sleeper should normally fulfil the following requirements
(a) The initial as well as maintenance cost should be minimum.
(b) The weight of the sleeper should be moderate so that it is convenient to handle.
(c) The designs of the sleeper and the fastenings should be such that it is possible to fix and remove the rails easily.
(d) The sleeper should have sufficient bearing area so that the ballast under it is not crushed.
(e) The sleeper should be such that it is possible to maintain and adjust the gauge properly.
(f) The material of the sleeper and its design should be such that it does not break or get damaged during packing.
(g) The design of the sleeper should be such that it is possible to have track circuiting.
(h) The sleeper should be capable of resisting vibrations and shocks caused by the passage of fast moving trains.
(i) The sleeper should have anti-sabotage and anti-theft features.