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From highway to railroad... and into the sky

Often referred to as "Hy-Rail", or "Hi-Rail", these dual purpose vehicles (able to travel on rails, as well as highways) can be fascinating to both train geeks and car collectors. The liberating idea of putting your car to rails, when the road ends or ceases to be an option, is good news to any off-road enthusiast. What's more, the cool looks of some extremely rare vintage conversions may stir some childhood memories and maybe prompt you to spot the surviving ones and restore them.

Road-Rail Vehicles use a combination of standard and flanged wheels (which could be raised or lowered), and are widely used by railroad companies to inspect the tracks, or drop off workers and equipment.

Modern Hi-Rail Trucks

The conversion is done with rail gear (such as manufactured by Mitchell Equipment), available for many types of light rail vehicles:

(image credit: railway-technology)

A 2005 Ford F-250 with Fairmont 0307 Hy-Rail Gear on the Indiana Transportation Museum's railroad:

(image credit: BNSF: Chillicothe Subdivision)

European railways use UNIMOG U-400:

(image credit: Parovoz)

BNSF Hi-Rail Chevy:

(image credit: Robert W. Thomson)

Hi-rail Mack R-600 from 1979:

(image credit: Rick Dean)

Here is a heavy truck conversion:
A special hi-rail Western Star utility truck, Ontario, 2000.

(image credit: Dan Learn)

Mafsa IPV bi-modal truck:

(image credit: Mafsa brochure)


Vintage Hi-Rail Examples

Road-Rail vehicle idea occured to railroad engineers long, long time ago:

(image credit: mchenrytruck)

Railbus in Latvia, 1934:

(image credit: Parovoz)

Similar rail-buses were employed by County Donegal Railways, in Ireland. See their interesting collection.

The RGS No. 2 Spruce Goose at the Colorado Rail Museum.
(photo by George Erhart)

(image credit: trainnet.org)

Willys Jeep 1951, 4x4

(image credit: Willys America Museum)

(image credit: wx4.org)

"Warsaw" rail-car from Hungary, 1952:

(image credit: Parovoz)

1961 Checker Marathon Hy-Rail:

(image credit: coachbuilt)

An interesting one found by William Glover in Missouri:

(image credit: William Glover)

Black Caddy:

(image credit: 2inchesTooLow)

Thanks to JalopyJournal, here are a few more interesting ones:

The car, used by Mr. James Bond in "Octopussy", photographed on the Nene Valley Railway, near Peterborough, in the UK. (photo by Paul Sharp)

(image credit: trainnet.org)

and a very British Mini makes a very cute road-rail car:
(used on CN Rail)

(image credit: JalopyJournal)

Good old VW Van has been converted into million various things, including Hi-Rail version, of course:

Another nameless van:

Polish "Mitor" or "Twin Zuk":

(image credit: Tomasz Mleczek)

The Rail-Road Bus Experiment - Developed in the UK during the 70s, the Road-Rail Bus ran from Bishops Lydeard to Roebuck Gate Crossing in 13 August 1980:

(image credit: The Road Rail Bus)

In the 50s and 50s in Germany, a bus was shuttling between stations Montabaur and Siershahn:

(image credit: mibaone.de)

A Pontiac station wagon inspection car, 1955:

(image credit: Leon Trice Photography, New Orleans)

1958 Pontiac Station Wagon Hyrail used on Canadian Railways.
More info here.

(image credit: Matt Cummins)

Black Chevy:

Vintage Hy-Rail in Duluth Depot train museum:

(image credit: Jim Kallinen)

The similar one was used for Road/Rail Cruising... yes, you heard right, and if you are an exploring nut like me, are probably jealous. The ultimate in vintage road-trip vacation:

This family used 1957 Pontiac Chieftain Safari Station Wagon Hy-rail car to make multiple treks across Canada:

(image credit: Niki Bitsko)

They rode the rails for 4 days in this hy-rail from Prince George all the way down to Vancouver, and criss-crossed Nova Scotia railways. One huge advantage is that you see parts of the country unavailable to motorists. Granted, the views behind the wheel are a little surreal:

(image credit: Niki Bitsko)

There is another way to engage in railway sight-seeing, without sacrificing any of the comforts of your... recreational vehicle.
The following fascinating picture shows occupied (!) RVs strapped onto flatbeds, cruising through the Mexico's Copper Canyon:

(image credit: iexplore)

We also have to mention "Back to the Future" car, which did very well on rails:

(image credit: jpustoys)

Russia is home to some of the most bizarre Road/Rail vehicles

Is it any surprise? Rare (and some fantastically ugly) mechanical dual-purpose monsters "grace" Soviet railways, as documented on this wonderful site. Here are some (shudder) examples:

This railroad marvel has DM62 locomotive engine set on top of ballistic rocket mobile wheeled base "Hurricane". It was built not too long ago, in 2002 by the students of VNIKTI institute in Bronnitsy, Russia.

BA-64 armored vehicle, conceived in 1942 at Gorkovski AutoZavod:

GAZ-51, combined with the snow-removal equipment:

ZIL truck, still running, after all these years:

Black Volga Gaz-24:

(image credit: Damir Z.)

Yellow Volga Gaz-24:

(image credit: zeljeznice.net)

Gayvoron station in Ukraine has this rare ZIM railcar conversion:

(images credit: Serguei Trouchelle)

Hungarian conversion of a Russian-made "Tschaika" luxury car:

UAZ-450 light van in 1972:

Soviet Army enjoys the "URAL-4330" heavy truck:

Some wild ideas thankfully never made it into production:


Truly "Light Rail" Vehicles

photos by Vladimir Markovicz

Scooter on rails, pretty straight-forward concept. Looks fun, though. However, make sure you know the local train schedule before you bring your whole family to the tracks.

(image credit: The Scooter Scoop)

and, of course, the easiest vehicle to convert is a bicycle:

(original unknown)


More Rail Madness

Not satisfied with the speed of your hi-rail vehicle? How about the ultimate...
Rocket Sled on Rails:

(image credit: quadrofonic wingnut)

This is a training vehicle, used by US Air Force to test the limits of human endurance. To call it "extreme" would be an under-statement...

Using High-Voltage lines for Rail-Trucks in Siberia

We are trying to be open-minded about this new transportation concept from Russia, but still have hard time believing they really mean it. Yet, according to this respected source, "Wire"-balancing trucks could be soon a reality in Siberia, and the similar 3 kilometers system is already under construction in Kiev.

The Road/Rail converted trucks will travel between existing high-voltage towers high above the frozen landscape, avoiding the costs associated with building on permafrost and huge snow-removal expenses.

Eventually the wire-transport system will get their own custom-designed cars, capable of reaching the speeds of 500 km/h.

But for now the all-purpose Russian (indestructible) trucks are going to become airborne and roam above the trees, scaring local birds and occasional hikers.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

On your Copper Canyon photo, when my family came down from Alaska in June of 1965, we drove from Anchorage to White Horse, Yukon then put our Volks camper on a flatbed railcar of the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad to Skagway, AK. It followed the GoldRush Trail of 1898 through the mountains and in place you could still see the steps worn into the rocks. The RR is running again but only to the Canada border from Skagway.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your 1961 Ford Fairlane Hy-Rail is actually a Checker Marathon, of indeterminate age because they never bother to change the styling.

Anonymous Terrapin said...

Back in the '70s I discovered that my '49 Ford pickup could ride the rails by slightly deflating the bias ply tires. Her creeper gear allowed us to leisurely cruise abandoned rail lines at 5 to 10 mph. The great thing was that it required only minimal attention from the driver.I only wish there was a system in place allowing us to similarly travel the highways. I would gladly give up some control of my vehicle in exchange for being able to pay attention to the scenery, or the newspaper, or my co-passengers.

Blogger Steve said...

Don't forget the "Rail Scooter"



Anonymous Pieter-Jan said...

And the RailBike: http://www.toerismevlaanderen.nl/tvl/download/nl/2260653/hoofdimage/railbike.jpg

Sorry for the small pic, there are bigger ones available, but this exact pic is the only one around where I live.

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you, i added some more info.
Terrapin, you don't have a picture of this, by chance?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an old bus-train combination, used in Germany in the sixties:

Anonymous wandpapier.de said...

To your "Truly a Light Rail Vehicle" i can say that the first and third are Simson Schwalbe KR51/1 (aka Simson Swallow) build in the German Demokratic Republic. The second is a Simson Star, also build in GDR.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

About that Volkswagen Bus: This is not some sort of "homegrown" conversion, they were produced in series equipped this way. The German railway company Deutsche Bundesbahn ordered some dozens of these (about 60 units, iirc). Some of them still roam around at several transportation museums or historic railways.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget de Back to the Future
Delorean Rail edition


Anonymous szuman said...

Where's polish car "Mitor" vel. "twin Żuk"?

one pic: http://www.ssb.strefa.pl/mitor/galeria/mitor02.jpg

more: http://www.ssb.strefa.pl/mitor/mitor.html

Anonymous Martin N said...

The german so-called "Schi-Stra-Bus", the red bus shown on the pictures courtesy of mibaone.de, was not only used between the towns of Siershahn and Montabaur. 15 of these were brought into use in 1953 and 1954. They were used on several routes, partly on rails and partly on roads, e. g. between Passau and Cham. However, most of the connections were cancelled by the late 50ies, early 60ies, since the conversion between road and rail was rather time-consuming (10-15 Min.) and improvements to the road-network made all-road connections more competitive. The last "Schi-Stra-Bus"-route, Betzdorf - Koblenz trough the Westerwald-mountains, lasted till 1967. One bus, the one shown above, is preserved.

More information (in German) on site linked to my name above.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

nb the photo just after the "willys jeep 4x4" is ALSO a Willlys jeep 4x4. It's a "forward control" jeep.

Blogger Keith Brenton said...

The William Glover photo of the 1951 Chevrolet track inspection car is actually from the Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway in Arkansas, though it is pretty close to Missouri.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A spruce goose is an airplane, the D&RGW #2 pictured is the combination of a Pierce Arrow car body with a box car, and is known to the railroaders as a "Motor". This is evident by the 2 foot tall letters on the side that say "Motor"

To rail fans and the people of Colorado these marvels of necessity are called a "Galloping Goose"

Anonymous Anonymous said...

rather nice ones, couple of slovak here as well :) http://vlaky.net/zeleznice/spravy/003153-Vyhra-zeleznica-Piestany-Vrbove-svoj-boj-o-prezitie.asp

Anonymous Anonymous said...

After D-Day during WII, the US military used jeeps as locomotives, and I think I have seen the same use during the same period in Burma.

John Bessa

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The second picture of the '55 Chevy Bel Air is very interesting, because the boxcars in the background have buffers. So the pictures is most likely taken somewhere in Europe.
That leaves the question, if the car was used by a european (state) railroad, or by the United State Army Transportation Corps?

Does anyone have information???

Blogger Евгений said...

These last photos of a Russian Army "URAL" truck probably are the tests of "Unitsky's String Transportation system". Possibly it might use hi-voltage wires as a string/rail, but on the polygon these things are only tubes.
Here's the link to their site. http://www.unitsky.ru/ (translate yousing google translate, yeah).
Also I'm quite sure, that these photos with a truck were not taken in Siberia, because the only testing polygon was in Ozery (South east of Moscow district, not far from Kolomna). I visited it in 2009 with a friend of mine, it was ruined a bit... I think there is no studies of this system now... Also Dr.Yunitsky is not very popular in Russian Scientific Society... So I don't thing that someone in Russia would like to give money for this.
And a few tricks. Youngsters that we met in Ozery didn't know, where the Yunitsky Transportation System is. But they knew, where there is a "tower":)))
Bonus: video from this "tower":))

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Evgeny, great material, will include in the next part.

Anonymous Kyle said...

That 1955 Chevrolet sedan appears to have been photographed in Soviet Russia, of all places.


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