Letter Re: Rail Cars

Hello James,
I was doing some thinking over the past discussions of those that will have to travel a great distance given a major event to get to their retreat. I understand that this is a less than "safe" idea, but under the scenario of an EMP attack, may be a viable option. Since main [automobile traffic] arteries will be clogged, if you have the foresight to plan your Bugout Vehicle (BOV) as an EMP resistant 4×4 Truck or Van, why not modify the undercarriage to accept train rail gear, or better yet, search for an old retired Hy-Rail truck? This is obviously given extreme circumstances and proof that nothing is operational on the tracks.

I would surmise that trains will be one of the first up and running vehicles as they offer the most cargo capacity with the least number of vehicles after an EMP event. So, think, look, know.

I would assume that one would stumble upon trains that were inoperable along your journey to your retreat making a nice immoveable road block. Lift the running gear, exit the tracks, drive around the deadlined train, and then back onto the tracks.

In a major event, there will obviously be many threats along the way. Given that, I think the numbers will be far less along the train tracks than on the freeways and major thoroughfares. Unless you live in Nebraska, I think most tracks wander in many different directions so it will not be clear to the average Joe without a map, which tracks to take. Not to mention that without a GPS and 6’x6′ signs, most citizens are lost.

With a map in hand, one could bypass major cities or potential problem areas and head cross country, or take a different set of tracks. I am not a train techie, but I think two pairs of manual or hydraulic cylinders, cut out some of the floor boards of the vehicle, and some offset to the inside rims, some sort of homemade track traveler could be had. If the time permits, why not rig up a trailer in the same manner? To clarify, I am not suggesting that the rims of the vehicle become the running gear. My suggestion to offset the rubber tires to the inside is because the centerline of track to track is likely narrower than the centerline of wheel to wheel on your BOV. By setting the wheels to the inside, you could apply ample down pressure on your everyday tires onto the track thus becoming the friction needed to become your drive train.

As a side note I was watching the Military channel a few weeks back and safe and secure vehicles were being highlighted. One manufacturer guaranteed 30 miles on totally flat tires. His device was a two piece doughnut shaped piece that was slipped onto the rim after half of the rubber tire was pressed into place. It almost mirrored a set of drum brake halves except much much larger. Reach in, bolt the halves together, and finish installing the other half of the tire and fill with air. Aside from Loc-Tite [adhesive] and balancing, I can’t think of any drawbacks to such an idea. Width disperses weight. Less weight per square inch and the longevity of the rubber tire is greatly increased. Much more so than the 1/4” wide steel flange of most rims which act as razors to the rubber when a flat happens. [An extra] 30 miles could be the difference between safety and danger. – The Wanderer

JWR Replies: I describe rail car mobility in my "Pulling Through" screenplay. (Which, BTW, is available for free download.) If you opt for this capability, exercise extreme caution and discretion. Get to know the technology, legalities, and customs very well. The best way to do this is to join a "rail motorcar" club. I cannot overemphasize safety in any such endeavor. What you suggest should only be done in extremis on any tracks other than those that you are 100% certain are entirely abandoned. You need to be absolutely certain that the rails that you intend to use are not in use. Failure to do so could be tragic!

A do-it-yourself modification of an existing vehicle for rail use is complicated to do right. You are better off buying either a professionally modified Hy-Rail pickup or a small 100% rail-dedicated motorcar (commonly called a "speeder"), such as the Fairmont speeder that I described in my screenplay. If you get a speeder, be sure to get one that has self-lift/self-turntable capability, as shown in this video. Most railroad companies phased out their little speeders in the 1980s and 1990s and switched to Hy-Rail pickup trucks, for greater versatility. A few might still come up for sale at railroad company surplus auctions, but the prime time for that was more than a decade ago. Prices on the secondary market for speeders is still relatively low, but climbing. Sadly, the days of a $500 speeder" are long gone. Used Hy-Rail pickups that are complete with their rail running gear don’t come up for auction as often as you’d think. This is because the Hy-Rail gear is often switched to a new prime mover once a railroad pickup nears the end of its service life.

One inexpensive option that shouldn’t be overlooked is converting a mountain bike or a light motorcycle (120cc, or smaller) to ride on rails, by means of fore and aft guide wheels, an "outrigger" wheel (or wheels) to ride on the other rail, and a means of locking the handlebars from pivoting. For stability and safety, about 60% of the weight should be on the outrigger wheel. (Hence, with most designs you will always be leaning slightly in the direction of the outrigger. One way of achieving this balance is to position most of your cargo weight on the outrigger side, or even on a cargo rack above the outrigger wheel itself. One alternative is to link two bicycles side-by side with brackets, each riding a rail. (A side-by-side tandem arrangement.) Because railroad grades are mild, it is remarkably easy to ride a bike on rails. The engineering and mechanical skills required for rail converting a bike is simple compared to converting a motor vehicle. But again, all of the aforementioned safety provisos apply.

Regarding "run-flat" tires. These are available on BMW 3-series cars, as well as the Toyota Sienna. Many tire manufacturers now produce them for after-market installation for a variety of cars and light trucks. These include: Bridgestone RFT (Run Flat Tire), Dunlop DSST (Dunlop Self-Supporting Technology), Firestone RFT (Run Flat Tire), Goodyear EMT (Extended Mobility Technology), Michelin ZP (Zero Pressure), Pirelli RFT (Run Flat Technology), and Yokohama. These are all "self-supporting" designs, meaning that they are supported by special sidewall designs rather than a rim-mounted support insert. (The latter would be preferable. More on this, later.) I have an acquaintance that has some.made by Bridgestone, and he said that with normal inflation they have the "feel" of regular tires. I suspect that run flat tires will become commonplace in the next few years, since car manufacturers would surely prefer to save on the space and weight of carrying a spare tire.

I have a bit of personal experience with military run flat tires. Back when I was lured back to the Dirty Big City to take a technical writing job in the late 1990s, I owned an amphibious British Ferret Mark 4 up-armored scout car, which was my intended BOV. (Sadly, I sold it— along with its Valkyrie Arms M1919A4 "turret accessory"–just before we moved back to the hinterboonies.) The Ferret had its original British army issue run flat tires with massive rim-mounted hard rubber inserts. This design is preferable to the typical commercial "self supporting" tire designs. The only brand of commercial run flat tires that I know of that has a military style hard rubber insert (an "Auxiliary Supported" design) is the Michelin PAX System. This requires installation of both special tires and wheels. I consider this design superior to the more commonplace "self-supporting" run flat tire designs. For maximum mobility in a "ballistically challenged" environment, the best of all possible worlds would probably be a vehicle with a central tire inflation system (CTIS)–such as that used on the military HMMWV and its commercial Hummer H1 counterpart–used in conjunction with a Michelin PAX-type auxiliary supported tire system.

OBTW, I once skipped checking tire inflation and drove my Ferret on city streets for nearly 20 miles without realizing that one of the tires was flat and I had been riding on the inner hard rubber support. I didn’t realize my mistake until I was doing my "after operation" checks. (Given the five ton vehicle’s noise, boat-like handling, and top speed of 50 MPH, it would have been hard to have noticed the difference.)