Speeders, Motorcars, and Hi-Rails…Oh My!

Is that a golf-cart on the railroad?

The evolution of railroad speeder cars, also known as track maintenance cars or speeder trucks, has been a gradual process over the past century. These small, lightweight vehicles were originally designed to be used by railroad track maintenance crews to quickly and efficiently travel along the tracks to perform routine maintenance and repairs.

The first speeder cars were manually powered, with the crew pushing or pulling the car along the tracks. These early cars were simple in design, consisting of a flatbed with seats and a braking system. They were primarily used for transporting tools and equipment to and from work sites.

As technology advanced, the power source of speeder cars began to change. In the early 1900s, gasoline-powered engines were introduced, providing a faster and more efficient means of propulsion. These cars were equipped with small engines, typically located under the flatbed, and were capable of reaching speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.

In the 1920s and 1930s, diesel engines were introduced and quickly became the preferred power source for speeder cars. These engines were more fuel-efficient and required less maintenance than gasoline engines. As a result, speeder cars became even faster and more reliable, allowing crews to cover greater distances in less time.

In the post-war era, the demand for speeder cars increased as the railroad industry expanded. To meet this demand, manufacturers began to produce more advanced designs, incorporating features such as cabins with heating and air conditioning, improved suspension systems, and better braking systems. This made the speeder cars more comfortable and safer to operate.

Front of a converted hi-rail

In recent years, advancements in technology have led to the development of electric speeder cars. These vehicles are powered by batteries and are much more environmentally friendly than their gasoline or diesel-powered counterparts. More often though, railroads are converting work trucks to “hi-rails” so that a road vehicle can drive safely on the tracks. These trucks can then raise the rail adapters and drive on the road.


Today, speeders and motorcars are most often seen on the rails with clubs.

NARCOA ride through Blue Ridge, GA area.

Organizations like North American Railcar Operators Association (NARCOA) helps local clubs organize group rides for enthusiasts to continue to enjoy the rails and see the US from a different perspective.

Interested in riding a speeder? Come by the museum on April 15-16, 2023, for Speeder Days. Click here for more information!

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