Riding The Rails By Ebike

As most developed countries around the world continue to modernize their transportation infrastructure with passenger rail, countries in North America have been abandoning railroads for over a century now, assuming that just one more lane will finally solve their traffic problems. Essentially the only upside to the abandonment of railroads has been that it’s possible to build some unique vehicles to explore these tracks and the beautiful yet desolate areas they reach, and [Cam Engineering] is using an ebike to do that along the coast of central California.

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Feeling The Heat: Railway Defect Detection

On the technology spectrum, railroads would certainly seem to skew toward the brutally simplistic side of things. A couple of strips of steel, some wooden ties and gravel ballast to keep everything in place, some rolling stock with flanged wheels on fixed axles, and you’ve got the basics that have been moving freight and passengers since at least the 18th century.

But that basic simplicity belies the true complexity of a railway, where even just keep keeping the trains on the track can be a daunting task. The forces that a fully loaded train can exert on not only the tracks but on itself are hard to get your head around, and the potential for disaster is often only a failed component away. This became painfully evident with the recent Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which resulted in a hazardous materials incident the likes of which no community is ready to deal with.

Given the forces involved, keeping trains on the straight and narrow is no mean feat, and railway designers have come up with a web of sensors and systems to help them with the task of keeping an eye on what’s going on with the rolling stock of a train. Let’s take a look at some of the interesting engineering behind these wayside defect detectors.

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Cart Cruises Abandoned California Rail

Southern California is known for its nearly perfect year-round climate, excellent surf, and extremely high cost of living, but once you get away from the coast things are radically different. Rural California has huge tracts of land run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is publicly accessible to anyone willing to venture into the deserts. There’s not much in the way of infrastructure out there, but [Ryan] does have a unique way of traveling through it using abandoned railroad lines and this custom rail cart.

The frame of this cart is simple enough, it’s little more than 2×3 framing with a plywood deck. Some extra support is added for the motor mount and for the seating location. It uses slightly longer go-kart axles to accommodate the width of the railroad, and a small six horsepower gas engine with a single gear to power the rear axle. There are no brakes other than the riders’ shoes, and while this all seems straightforward enough the real hack here is [Ryan]’s custom wheels. He found that steel or cast wheels were not particularly comfortable on long journeys so after a few attempts he has come up with a home-built polyurethane wheel which is cast in a mold around a steel go-cart wheel and then trimmed on a lathe.

For pure exploration, there’s almost no better place to go than the American west thanks to all the public BLM land available. In this cart, you can explore long distances using an extremely low-cost method of transportation. We’ve added another video of [Ryan] exploring this area below the break to show the cart being used, too, but if you’d like a more multipurpose vehicle to use on abandoned rail near you, take a look at this bicycle which is converted to operate on the railroad.

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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.

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Powering A Backyard Railway With Compressed Air

When you’ve gone to the trouble of building your own backyard railway, chances are pretty good that at some point, you’re going to want to add a locomotive of some sort. After all, nobody wants to be stuck using muscle power to move carts around. But what exactly are you going to power your locomotive with? And will it be up to the tasks you envision it handling?

Answering such questions calls for rigorous calculations using established engineering principles — or, if you’re [Tim] from the Way Out West channel on YouTube, just throwing a pneumatic engine on wheels and seeing what happens. The railway that [Tim] built is for his farm in County Cork, where he plans to use it to haul wood that he’ll make charcoal from. We’ve seen a little about his rails and rolling stock before, which has been a low-budget and delightfully homebrewed undertaking. So too with his pneumatic engine, seen in the video below, which uses cam-operated valves to control a pair of repurposed hydraulic cylinders to turn a big flywheel.

Using scuba tanks, [Tim] was able to power the engine for a full fourteen minutes — very encouraging. But would the engine have the oomph needed for real farm work? To answer that, [Tim] plunked the engine on a spare bogie, connected the engine shaft to one of the axles with a length of rope, and let it go. Even with no optimization and zero mechanical advantage, the engine was easily able to move a heavy load of sleepers. The makeshift pneumatic railway even managed to carry its first passenger, [Tim]’s very trusting wife [Sandra].

There’s clearly more work to do here, and many problems to overcome. But we really appreciate the “just try it” approach [Tim] employed here, and with a lot of what he does.

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Joel in his minecart

This Little Minecraft Mine Cart Of Mine

[Joel] of Joel Creates loves trains and Minecraft. So what better way to combine them than to make a real-life electric mine cart and ride it around?

At first glance, it seems pretty straightforward. Four wheels, each with a flange, mounted to a box with a motor. In practice, it was a little more complex than that. Just finding a spot of track to even ride on is tricky. Most “abandoned” tracks that you might see around your city often aren’t all that abandoned. Luckily for [Joel], he remembered an amusement park in the area that he went to as a kid, which he remembered having a decent amount of track. Additionally, the rails were smaller and closer to the scale of a real Minecraft track where one block is 1 meter. After calling up the owner and receiving permission, Joel began to build his cart.

First attempts to procure actual train wheels were foiled by cost and lead times, and simply CNCing a set of wheels was too expensive from a time and materials point of view. [Joel]’s first thought was about making an assembly out of two wheels to grip the rail, much like a roller coaster. However, there were dozens of switch points on the track at the park and several road crossings, both things that wouldn’t work with that sort of setup. Stumbling upon a bit of hacker inspiration, [Joel] turned to brake drums, which happen to be reasonably close to the correct size. They also have the superb quality of being relatively cheap and available. Almost all the parts were CNCed out of aluminum, plywood, or foam.

Given that the theme of the build was doing things to scale, [Joel] was mindful of the top speed of a minecart in the game, which is 8 meters per second or roughly 25 miles per hour, so he set that as his goal to hit. A beefy motor from an online warehouse and a lithium-ion pack allowed him to hit that easily; it was just a matter of doing so safely.

If you need even more Minecraft vehicles in your life, perhaps an RC boat might do the trick? Video after the break.

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Railroad Rail Transformed Into Blacksmith’s Anvil With The Simplest Of Tools

One of the biggest challenges facing the aspiring blacksmith is procuring the tools of the trade. And that means tackling the unenviable task of finding a decent anvil. Sure, one can buy an ASO — anvil-shaped object — at Harbor Freight, but a real anvil is much harder to come by. So perhaps the beginner smith’s first build should be this railroad rail to anvil conversion.

Repurposing sections of rail into anvils is hardly a new game, but [The Other Finnish Guy]’s build shows us just how little is needed in terms of specialized tooling to pull this off. Other than a file, the bulk of the work is done by angle grinders, which are used to cut off the curved crown of the rail section, cut the shape of the heel, and rough out the horn. Removing that much metal will not be a walk in the park, so patience — and a steady supply of cutting wheels and sanding discs — is surely required. But with time and skill, the anvil hidden inside the rail can be revealed and put to use.

We have questions about the final result, like its lack of a hardy hole and the fact that the face isn’t hardened. We wonder if some kind of induction heating could be used to solve the latter problem, or if perhaps a hardened plate could be welded into the top to make a composite anvil. Still, any anvil is better than no anvil. More on the anatomy and physiology of these tools can be had in [Jenny List]’s article on anvils, and her whole excellent series on blacksmithing is highly recommended. [Jenny]’s not the only smith we have on staff, though — [Bil Herd] has been known to smite a bit too.

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