A Rail Cart For The Space Conscious Passenger

For those who live in countries where there are plenty of abandoned railways, a popular way to explore them has been by means of home made rail carts. These are usually rudimentary rail trolleys with a small internal combustion engine, and a host of fascinating videos of them can be found online. Such a trolley has one disadvantage though — it’s not the most compact of devices. [Cato] has come up with a rail cart that’s extremely portable by replacing the engine with the guts of a pair of hoverboards.

The chassis of the machine is made from aluminium extrusion, and its deck from plywood. The wheels are the stock hoverboard wheels with flat flanges applied, which while they don’t have the ideal flange profile of a rail wheel are good enough to keep the thing on track. Finally to control the thing a rather stylish little 3D printed single-axis joystick serves as a combined throttle and brake.

Those of us who hail from places where abandoned railways have their track speedily ripped up can only gaze in envy and imagine speeding along the rails on one of these. The build starts with a warning never to use one of these on an active track, but should you wish to drive a real train there are plenty of places to do that.

26 thoughts on “A Rail Cart For The Space Conscious Passenger

  1. Using a gutted hoverboard to drive it is interesting but how far does a charge last and how heavy is it to carry it around ? There has been better a option for a long time… The Railbike. You can ride it to and back from your trip and it is easy to carry. There is even a recumbent version. https://bikepacking.com/news/rail-bike-with-folding-outriggers/

    Remember… In the US railroad right-aways are not considered “abandoned” if the rails are still there. The railroads or a company still own them and can net you a trespassing charge. Also adjacent land owners might take a dim view if you use their property to enter/exit the railbed. An “abandoned” rail line might be a low use spur. There are stories of hikers crossing a bridge only to find they have no where to go when a train was shunted onto that section.

    1. I’d say it weighs about 30 kg, which is fine to carry in parts of for a short while. My goal wasn’t to get an actually efficient mode of transport,but rather a fun project :) the way I do it is carry it by car to an abandoned track, assemble it and put it on the track.
      Also, of course, not every seemingly abandoned line is actually abandoned. Always check and research!

    1. I did a few test runs and it seems that with my slightly mishandled 6S 12Ah LiPos, I get around 6 km, while my newer 14Ah packs should do at least 10!
      I simply have two of those lipo warners plugged into the batteries to have a look at the voltage.

  2. Very cool! Any videos of it running on the rails?

    I’m interested to see how those wheels perform, especially on curved track. I’ve been thinking of using some wheels of a I-Beam gantry crane trolley (which are shaped like train wheels), but pneumatic tires would be much lighter.

      1. Awesome! Looks fast!

        I look forward to future updates. So far the best (cheap and available) option for rail profile wheels I’ve found is a hoist trolleys (note: trolleys for curved beams have better profiles). A half ton trolley comes in at under $60, giving us ~$15 per wheel (plus bonus parts).

  3. I made one with 7005 aluminum and a 13kw ac motor once using ebike parts… The primary goal with these is ability to move average human weight at least 20 miles per charge while being totable…. Batteries are the road block

  4. Nice build. Does both wheel pairs get driven at the same time? This could be a major battery drainer, with one motor fighting the torque of the other one. Maybe another mechanical improvement could be slightly variable wheel base distance (I know, nice idea but hell to implement), so you avoid the losses related to the lateral friction of the wheels.

    Or a new idea: since you are using a (highly maneuverable) hoverboard base, you could use a simple sensor based tracking system to keep the cart on the rails without lateral wheels flanges. You would actively steer the cart based on a sensor input. Something similar to the “rudimentar” basic electronic builds of a car that follows a black line on the ground. Your sensors could be easy as an electrical contact on the tracks, an optical sensor of track position or a sophisticated distance measurement device using laser or compressed air or even a potentiometer measuring the angle between a follower rod in the track and your cart.

    1. Thanks! The motors are torque regulated using the FOC Hoverboard firmware hack, so they won’t be fighting each other, luckily!
      The wheel base is actually adjustable by like 10mm due do the motors having some wiggle room to be slid in or out. Its mostly just variation in the track – some is a tiny bit wider, some is narrower.
      Your sensor idea sounds really cool, but a bit too out there for me to try – especially since I wanna go 21 kph and I just wouldn’t trust a purely electronic system. Also, some overgrowth on the track would make that rather hard.

  5. Let’s say even one other person does this and uses the same track but in the opposite direction. That’s a problem … when you meet someone at a high enough speed and one of you might be able to stop in time. This whole abandoned rail idea only works if you are the only person using it. Maybe in the middle of Russia somewhere? Certainly not in the U.S.

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