Introduction: Railcar Project Techshop

Picture of Railcar Project Techshop

Our idea was to build a motorized rail cart to explore the many abandoned rail lines across the country.  We built the structure at Tech Shop ( from the ground up, starting with the hull.  The concept was a truss fame with eight tubes and transverse stiffeners.  The chassis would split apart so a single person could carry each half as they would a rickshaw.

Step 1: Frame Prefab

Picture of Frame Prefab

After going through some initial concepts, it was decided to build a truss frame.

The tube strength was tested by placing tubing sections in a bender and measuring the deflection with a dial indicator.  The test is representative of the point load case.  Based on this test, we were able to select an appropriate tube size.  We then cut out the transverse channels from a solid piece of sheet metal which was to be bent into a C-channel shape.  The 2D template was created using Solidworks and then exporting to a dxf format where it was imported and used in the CNC plasma cutter.  Features were placed in the part to mark bend center-line.

The 2D shapes were then placed in a punch press.  The punch press has a set of dies that can be used depending on the length of bend, bend radius, and material thickness in use.  The vertical range of travel must be adjusted so that there is something somewhat greater than the material thickness clearance between the dies at maximum travel in the cycle.  After bending the channels, they were welded to make a seamless channel.

Step 2: Welding the Frame

Picture of Welding the Frame

The frame was setup on saw horses and welded together starting with the bottom part, then the sides.  The side channels were welded onto the bottom channels in order to transmit bending moment, but primarily compression from the seats, which are supported by the top tubes.  The height of the top tubes is at a comfortable sitting height.  After the frame was welded together, it was painted to keep the bare metal from rusting.

Step 3: Brakes and Drivetrain

Picture of Brakes and Drivetrain

In this step, we recycled wheel bearings from a Honda Civic to make something strong enough to support at least five full sized people.  The caliper bolts were identified as a strong point to tie into with a truss.   The steering knuckle joint was used as a third support point and way to adjust wheel toe. The wheel toe is important to tinker with because it adjusts how the train rides on the track.  The spline the half shaft normally goes into was adapted to a pulley and driven from the "pumpkin" which houses the final drive reduction to the gearbox.

The brake housing was welded together out of aluminum using a fixture to align everything.  The driveshaft is keyed and supported at 3 points using flanged ball bearings.  The Tees here were the original way we planned to tension both the chain and pulleys.  The outer tees are still in use for pulley tension, and the all-thread rod below tensions the chain now, with ball end joints on each end to make alignment easy.

Step 4: Finalizing

Picture of Finalizing

As with any project, considerable time was involved in testing and improving things.  We went through sets of seats, fabricating a driver console consisting of a gas tank, control switches and a throttle/brake actuator.  The friction throttle is modeled after a boat and holds the cable at a specific setting.  This has been tested and preformed well on the track.


twopint (author)2015-12-15

Hey d_c I have been wanting to make something like this for a while now but I have been having a hard time finding train wheels... Did you make yours and how did you?

rowan.delabarre (author)2015-03-08

You forgot about how you did the wheels.

rwbishop (author)2014-12-10

I think it's awesome, I would put a top on it and hit the abandoned mountain railroads, but take a chainsaw and sledge hammer

astral_mage (author)2013-12-13

pl;us only some who's cuasing mishaps an wild fires would put the gas tank above the switches. if i was doing it, i would gove with a seperate fuel tank with a low pressure fuel pump set - up.

jatravia (author)2012-10-25

Beside pulling up the rail you have to remove the ties and the ballest and the sub roadbed and the right of way has to be returned to its natural state. Besides that, if the right of way is left intact, it makes it easier (though still very costly) to put the line back in to service should the need arise.

All that aside - nice looking project.

rdegelder (author)jatravia2012-10-25

The railroads have a real incentive to remove the rails as soon as they are legally declared abandoned or surplus. Not only is there a real scrap value for the rail and other metal along the right of way there is also the tax incentives of not requiring the same amount of taxes to be paid. And they significantly decrease legal risks of being sued. And when the rails are removed there is a very real lower probability of having to reactivate them for a client.

When a railroad abandons a line it is because it is too costly to maintain service along it and they have proven that there is not enough traffic to justify continuing servicing it, and there is not a realistic hope of an increase in traffic to make the line financially viable. There is a long legal process to abandoning a line and as soon as it is declared surplus the rails are removed. There is not the requirement to remove all of the ballast and sub roadbed nor to return it to its natural state. Many rail line are converted into trails. And it is still easy to see where many rail lines used to go because the roadbed is still somewhat intact and visible.

When you see a rail line that you assume is abandoned it is not. The railroad may be in the process of abandoning it but that does not mean that there is not the occasional train using it. There may not be many trains using it but do you really want to be stuck on the rail line when a train, however infrequent, does come along? Encouraging people to put things on the tracks is not a wise thing to do and creates undue risk to those doing so. The train may not be going very quickly but it also cannot stop immediately.

Also when you are going on a rail line when you cross road ways the drivers are not going to be expecting you. The railroads have a procedure for when light vehicles come to a roadway and that is to stop and ensure that all traffic on the roadway has either stopped or the way is clear before crossing the roadway. The Employee rule books warn that the rules for operating a railroad have been paid for in blood and unless you are going to follow the same sets of rules you are taking inordinate risks that you should not be considering.

Please do not assume that any rail lines are abandoned and will not have a train running on it nor encourage others to take those risks as well. If there are tracks present then there can also be a train that runs on them and that train is going to have a lot more weight and impact than you ever will on it.

finton (author)rdegelder2012-12-08

"Many rail line are converted into trails." True: we have one on New Zealand that follows the old rail line from Middlemarch to Clyde (site of one of our hydroelectric dams). At risk of sounding like an advert, the Otago Central Rail Trail is 150km of beautiful South Island highcountry. There is a lot of accommodation along the way, so the Trail can be done in very easy stages. Pinegrove is one of my favourite places.

d_c (author)rdegelder2012-10-28

I'm not encouraging anyone to do this nor am I liable for anyone's lack of common sense.

rdegelder (author)d_c2012-10-28

True; you are not advocating that others do this and you are also not responsible for the lack of common sense in anyone but when I see things like this I really get a bad feeling that someone is going to do something that will get them into trouble. Getting a ticket and being charged for trespassing is the least of anyone's problems that this, and other things like it, can lead to.

riff raff (author)jatravia2012-10-26

There's a bunch of lines around here (Midwest USA) where they've just pulled the rails...all the rest was left as-is. Been that way for years.

jatravia (author)riff raff2012-10-26

Maybe I'm wrong - maybe it's just a pinelands issue here. I had this discussion with real railroad guy a few months back. It could be he was mis-informed. Either way I hate seeing rails pulled up.

Joe <><

jrjohnwood (author)2012-11-05

Yee Haw! Redneck Rail Road! F.Y.I: Any officially recognized law enforcement officer has the authority to make an arrest for trespassing on federally enforced property, and if you really want to press your luck, carry a gun with you to do some hunting as you scare up some unsuspecting creature lurking in the weeds along the route. It might appear abandoned, but be assured for certain, it hasn't been forgotten. What appears to be the light at the end of the tunnel might just be the headlight of an approaching train!

meritsetgo (author)2012-10-25

cambodians have an informal "rail taxi" that can be taken off the rail by two people should there be an incoming vehicle. they also offer rides to tourists but serve a purpose for villagers wanting to move from one town to another.

they are perhaps the ultimate in diy tech for economical construction and, fast take down, good performance speed and capacity

d_c (author)meritsetgo2012-10-28

Great link - I've never heard of this but they are being super resourceful using wasted track as a productive corridor. Also in their building of it you have to respect using whatever materials happen to be available.

alzie (author)2012-10-26


Reminds me of seeing a rail bike with
special rail wheels and
an out rigger to help stay up right.

efrancisco1 (author)2012-10-25

There's an organization called PRO (don't remember what that stands for), dedicated to railcars (aka "speeders"). Here's a YouTube video:

skylane (author)efrancisco12012-10-25

A neighbor of mine has a few speeders in his back yard. Belongs to some org that gets permission to ride the rails on occasions.. sounds like FUN

dannemillerd (author)2012-10-25

scrap yards will absolutely not take rails of any kind even if you can prove you got them legally

fjr_scoot (author)2012-10-25

nicely done! Great, elegant design

Ricardo Furioso (author)2012-10-25

Amazing work.
A lot more "How" would be appreciated.
And callouts on your photos.
And a materials list.
And a cost estimate.
And, and, and...
I love the trailer hitch, so you can build more cars and haul them.
I wish you luck getting permisssion, or failing that, not getting caught
by the choo choo police.
Great project.
Thanks for sharing.

kretzlord (author)2012-10-22

Flippin awesome! not gonna lie, first think i think is zombie apocalypse transportation

CorruptedData (author)kretzlord2012-10-25

Totally! I thought the exact same thing.

kretzlord (author)kretzlord2012-10-22

thing i think*

dantistus (author)2012-10-25

I have been dreaming about my own railcar since I was 11! You guys rock.

Green Silver (author)2012-10-25

Wow! Make it 4 wheel drive, glue rubber to the wheels and break the 0-60 and standing 1/4 mile rail record!

Have you uploaded a video to You Tube of this beastie in action yet?m

rncbme (author)2012-10-25

This instructable is a dream idea of many a person who had ridden by/over a set of railroad tracks. You are to be commended on the amount of thought and work that you put into this project. I was surprised to not see any type of vibration buffering. Perhaps the seats will absorb a lot of it. You did not mention what range of speed you were shooting for. Happy hunting!

evad (author)2012-10-25

You do realize that running on "abandoned" rails is still trespassing- There have been instances where abutters to the abandoned lines didn't like the noise the vintage rail cars were making, so they called the police. The railcar owners were eventually fined for trespassing on railroad property

Some abandoned lines are actually used sporadically- I have one near me- the right of way is weed choked, but 1-3 times a month, a few tank cars are delivered to the Eastman Plant. No one is going to help you if you get caught on tracks that are active - It is a federal offense. (Federal Railway Administration) Even the TSA has arrested railfans taking pictures!!

Best would be to join a rail car club- they do it all legally. Start here:

Delfairen (author)2012-10-25

The railroad is all private property and the have there own police. They can arrest you.

Also how do you know it is truly abandoned? A train takes a long time to stop and would destroy you in this thing along with cause a lot of damage to train and tracks and the mental well being of the person driving the train.

Bonzoix (author)2012-10-25

I like the project... the instructable, not so much... It seems more of a show and tell than a how-to... Are you planning something more in depth? I'd love to build one and follow in you "tracks".

javajunkie1976 (author)2012-10-22

Kind of reminds me of a entry in the tv show "Junkyard Wars." One episode had them try to build a railcar to pull a load using nothing but junk.

abadfart (author)2012-10-21

not cost effective when you look into the cost for labor

jackjackboom (author)2012-10-21

Have you explored any old railroads yet????????

baz4096 (author)2012-10-21

Would be great to see some video of it in action!

stephenniall (author)2012-10-21

Extremely Cool !

bertus52x11 (author)2012-10-19

I wish we had abandoned railway lines over here!
I would certainly build one.

Junkyard Dawg (author)2012-10-18

This is a cool rig here. It's kind of like the old railroad speeders that track crews would use for inspections.

The only thing I can think of that could improve this design would be the adition of an air compressor and a Leslie RS-5T air horn (or any other train/truck horn of your choise) Not only would it be cool to use it on the line but also, if you are into the railroad history, and get one of the horns (or whistles) that were used by the old railroad to "re-live" the old sounds of the railroad.

If you don't mind me asking, what lines do you explore with this car?

About This Instructable




More by d_c:Railcar Project Techshop
Add instructable to: