All Aboard The Garbage Express

Cog railways are a somewhat unusual way of train locomotion, typically only installed when a train needs to climb steep terrain. Any grade above about 10% needs the extra traction since the friction between the wheels and rails won’t be enough to push the train forward or keep it from falling backwards. Even without a steep hill to climb, sometimes a cog railway is necessary for traction as [Max Maker] discovered while building a train for his garbage cans.

The build started out as a way to avoid having to wheel his seven waste bins to the curb every month. Originally he built a more standard railway with a simple motor to drive the train, but he quickly realized that there wasn’t enough grip even when using plastic wheels, even though this track follows fairly flat terrain. Since the rail is built out of steel he quickly welded up a rack-and-pinion system to one of the rails. The build goes through many iterations before he finally settles on a design that solves the problem, and it includes several other features as well such as remote control and a spring-loaded automatic charger for the train at its station in the back yard.

While we always appreciate the eccentricity of those who would automate a relatively simple task that only happens once a month, [Max Maker] hopes to build this into a commercial product aimed at the elderly or disabled who would really benefit from a reliable, semi-automatic system that takes their trash bins to the curb for them. And, if your system only involves a single trash can, there are other ways of automating the task of taking the garbage to the curb.

Thanks to [P0482] for the tip!

39 thoughts on “All Aboard The Garbage Express

  1. It sure looks cool and it also looks like it works, but there is one thing I’ve got some doubt about.
    How do you get a garbage bin off the cart when it is full? The wheels are on the wrong side.
    At 13:56 he puts an empty bin on one of the carts and it already looks awkward.

    A possible solution is to make the platforms round so they can be rotated to put the wheels of the bins on the front side. Putting a motor on each platform for this would be expensive, as an alternative you could make a mechanism that is driven by the rack

    1. How pointlessly overdramatic.

      People have been over-engineering things for fun since the dawn of time. And yes, errors will be made and the initial path is unlikely to be the exactly final version. I bet you have made errors in a project, that is if you have ever built anything.

      Easy to avoid engineering errors as an armchair critic.

      1. Yes, I know. Overdramatic. Sorry for that.

        But here is the thing: we have about 200 years experience with building mechanical devices that
        drive by iron wheels on iron rails. And there is a huge (huge!) number of stuff written about all the problems with that combination.

        There is this thing called rolling resistance coefficient. Steel wheel on track is in the range of steel bearings. Even the far worse (in terms of rolling resistance) combination of rubber tire on asphalt is total slippery when wet or covered with foliage. So what to expect from a far better combination?

        Do laymen know that trains have sandboxes and their use case?

        This isn’t surprising new knowledge. Wikipedia has lots of stuff about it. Even some math and formulas. But I know. Reading suxx, just let us build something.


        I like his track building with those two different rail styles. I like the rack railway solution. I personally would try (Here! /me said it!) welding a bicycle chain sideways on the track, use cheap bicycle sprockets and add a glider to avoid slip through.

        I really really love how it integrates into the garden, the driveway, the green and all. Really.

        I like his overall welding and machining approaches. Sometimes I think it is a little bit too massive steel and oversized solutions, but why not. It is ok. Work with what you have and have knowledge of.

        I dislike the overly complicated stopping mechanism. Most of it could have been done in software and a more simple switch solution on the side rail would do the job. This could solve stopping at the other end, too.

        I saw rust on the charging posts. My fear is that some dirt, ice or snow would be enough to break the connection. The charging connection is not weatherproof and sits there all day long exposed to ugly German weather.

        With that said, let us think about the primary purpose of that thing: It is a Thursday morning, you are already late for work, children are strapped down in the car for kindergarten and last task: bring your seven bins to the street.

        And then you learn that your little train sucked all the energy out of the system while idling. I would beef up the whole energy and software stuff.

        Way to long post. :)

        1. My first job after High School was working in a video store. It was mostly great, as a thing to kill time and save up some cash. But every now and then we’d have some rando come in and yell at us about a movie they came in and chose for themselves -specifically what they did or didn’t like about said movie, in detail, as though WE had in fact written, directed, and shot the film ourselves, before renting it out to them (and we should think twice before making more movies like that, lest they give us another piece of their mind).

          Ultimately, they were providing mountains of misdirected, and outright insulting ‘feedback’ to someone with no tangible connection to what annoyed them.

          Video rental chains are a long dead industry, but there’s no shortage of Karens ready to unload their detailed ‘critiques’ on people who have no part in creating or designing the things they’re complaining about.

          1. I disagree with you here. Yea the first comment was dramatic, but the detailed breakdown of what they think works or doesn’t work, coming from a person who seems to work in the industry, is exactly why I come to the comment section. It is not directed at you, but the person who made the thing. And it is an informed opinion. Your analogy is off the mark sir. (Parable?)

  2. It is a disease among engineers. They rarely want to look at what others have done. It reminds me of a baker who was asked why he was willing to reveal his methods and recipes. He said that all of the other bakers in his area were too proud to ever copy anyone else.

    On the other hand, I honestly wouldn’t have expected this project to needs cogs, but given light weight and plastic on steel, one can see that it isn’t a total surprise.

    What I wonder about is why anyone has 7 trash bins. More than 7 times more than I need.

      1. And God bless them for that! I suspected (and hoped!) it might be segregation for recycling. I won’t even start to tell you the sad state of affairs here in my neck of the woods.

      2. …and it probably mostly gets burnt or landfilled anyway as the plastics aren’t as recyclable as everyone claims. 🥲

        I’m more concerned about the “once a month” part. Our council switched to bi-weekly collections and the bins stink. Monthly must need a hazmat suit to empty.

          1. Neat study. Of note: contrary to Dan’s assertion above, at least in Germany almost none of the recycled plastic is landfilled. 99.4% of what enters the recycling stream is accounted for — burned or reused.

            Worrying in those charts is the increasing fraction of burned vs reused. But you can also see that the overall amount of recycled plastic is growing quickly too. It’s like there’s a fixed quantity that can be reused (demand for the material?) and the rest is just being burned. Back in 2015, it was 85% reused vs 15% burned, but was a much smaller total quantity. (Numbers approxi-guessed.)

            Anyway, it’s awesome to have data. Thanks JanW!

        1. Yah, I was wondering about the once-a-month thing. Is that a UK thing?

          Sounds like it would be pretty stinky! It’s weekly here and I just assumed it was everywhere, or at least everywhere that actually has regular garbage pickup service. Do you have to plan what you eat so as to have less perishable scraps at the beginning of the month?

          Actually, at first glance I thought, wow, that’s a lot of bins. I hope there are a lot of people living there! Then I saw the mention of monthly pickup and it made more sense.

    1. Railway Signalling is cut and paste. If you do something different / innovative you are considered a heathen. You must look at what was previously done and repeat it. This is, unfortunately, a different disease.

      1. Railway Signalling should be cut and paste. Sadly the european railway signal makers (or was the idea german only? They claim standardization) did make something new and introduced a contradiction in the fundamentals of the signalling principle. Now they go through all the paperwork and try to fix the rupture they introduced, tearing everything apart in the process, and the hardware crumbles away as every time you have to maintain or fix something, you have to apply the patches of the day (which often breaks even more stuff).

    2. I’m the target demographic (disabled) & to me, THIS IS AWESOME!!
      I would LOVE this system! We have 2-3 cans that have to go to the ‘curb’ every week.
      But the ‘curb” of our rental is about a quarter mile down a wicked steep, winding driveway.
      A straight track for the cans right down the hill to the curb would be PERFECT!
      I hope he’s able to commercialize it!!

    3. In the video he says he lives in a place in Germany where everyone only gets trash picked up once per month so that is 4 garbage cans and then where he lives they separate there recycling in 3 types which are the other 3 still important that those are also only monthly. On top of that I believe it is a town house and he mentioned that the other residents also use those cans( I believe I could be remembering wrong on that part).

  3. I had the same question about the 7 bins, but we get our trash/recycle picked up once a week. 7 bins for a month doesn’t seem too out of line, but I bet it stinks in the summer!

    1. The ‘once a month’ comment stunned me, I couldn’t imagine the smell either. Our regular rubbish wheelie bin is picked up weekly, and the recycling bin fortnightly.

      1. In my bit of the UK we have three bins. One for landfill, one for mixed recycling and one smaller one for compostable organic stuff. The landfill and recycling are collected fortnightly, the compostable stuff is collected weekly. (They collect landfill and compostable one week, recycling and compostable the other week. The landfill and compostable waste isn’t particularly smelly so I can see why monthly would work if they have more bins and sort their recycling more)

    2. In Germany it heavenly depends on the country you live in and the time of the year and everything else.

      My relatives have a green bin (bio waste, bi-weekly, summer: every week), blue bin (paper), yellow bin (“Wertstoff”, reusable material aka “burns well”) and gray bin (all the “other” stuff aka “does not burn well”). All bi-weekly. Glass, electronics and paper is also collected at recyclables collection points. Bulk waste will be collected, but it has to be announced with a post card that has to be bought for an extra fee. (This ensures street fights because it is a.) illegal to add to your neighbors pile of crap and b.) forbidden to cheery pick stuff from that pile and c.) to put it on the street too early…)

      On my ship we dump it overboard or collect to later dump it overboard. Of course meeting the MARPOL requirements all the time and avoid been caught.

    1. The bins are easily manoeuvered individually even when full, it’s just a hassle to move several bins a significant distance. So this is already entirely viable.

      And cities that use wheelie bins don’t collect them manually; garbage trucks have a hydraulic arm to pick them up. So “getting them to put the bins back on the cars” is a non-starter.

      1. Nope.

        We’ve got trash cans on wheels here, provided by the company with the garbage pick-up contract. They have hydraulic lifts to pick up the trash cans and dump the contents into the truck, but the trucks have a couple of guys who run around, dragging the trash cans to and from the trucks.

        One arm on the truck, and getting the truck close enough to the trash cans on narrow European streets is a “non-starter.”

        1. No kidding. I live in California and our trucks use just the hydraulic arms, no runners. I have not seen a can end in the starting location and orientation in 5 years.

          And the way they slam the arms around, I’d worry about breaking the cart if they ever did.

      2. I liked the idea, fun project, but I don’t think it’s particularly realistic for real use. Our bin collectors would just chuck the bins back in the area of the train, not place them back on, so it’s not really reducing effort much for the sake of probably several thousand dollars for a commercial system. They’re moving the bins about 7m.

  4. What happens when it snows?
    How many trash cans does he have anyway? Looks like way too many to me.
    Or how about this? Pay some kid in the neighborhood to do the same job every week.

    1. You didn’t watch it, did you? In the video he explains why he has that many bins, and that it works in snow. Not everyone has a friendly neighbourhood kid to pay, but that would be my go-to solution here too to be fair.

  5. Is it practical? Maybe. Is it a cool project? Hells yea! Does it highlight the need for more everyday assistive devices as our population starts to go upside down? I hope so.

  6. Seems like a case for distributed propulsion. One motor per platform. That way the weight of the load adds to traction, and the system truly scales. You need a 7 times weaker motor per platform, but can add as many, or few as you like. Also, you can get rid of the rack and pinion.

  7. I would really love this! Unfortunately, the reason I would love it also makes it kinda unworkable in my case, or at least very difficult to install. I live somewhat remotely, and “the curb” is about a kilometre away from my house. I currently don’t bring my cans to the house at all, instead leave them where they get emptied, and then take bags of trash with me whenever I’m going somewhere (I pass the cans in my way to the nearest road anyway, so might as well)

    It has become a bit of a problem at times though, since I’m working from home and quite frequently stay at home for several days without leaving other than for walks in the forest which surrounds my house) leading to buildup of trash in my entrance or garage.

    But building a kilometre long railway through steep forested terrain, the majority of which I don’t own, is possibly even more of a non starter than pulling the damn things myself by hand!

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