Railcart Build


1 mW
Feb 29, 2024
South Carolina
Hello everyone, new to the forum and hoping to get an answer to help me with my railbike (really a rail cart powered by my ebike). My design is a 4 wheeled cart using poly wheels that are flanged. It will run on a standard gauge track that I know is designed to be 56 1/2" wide, measured from inside of rail to inside of rail. Since the tracks are no longer maintained I assume that measurement will vary somewhat, maybe an inch or so either way. My question is this. How wide to install the wheels on my axles to insure the flange has clearance on the inside of the rail while keeping the running surface of the wheel properly on the track? I have attached two pictures showing the wheels and the basic frame design without the bike mounted (bike fork will be rigid mounted to cart and rear wheel will rest on the rail).



  • 20240227_161719.jpg
    4.6 MB · Views: 22
  • 20240227_161733.jpg
    3.8 MB · Views: 23
Personally, I'd go and measure a real train car but then again, it's easy enough to Google it. Remember, the flanges aren't supposed to touch the rail. These are self-centering wheels by their design as are all rail wheels.

Your build looks a bit on the lighter side. Good for moving it around but I hope it holds up to the irregularities of unused rail lines.

Cool project. Good luck.
Maybe a simpler question would be: What back to back flange spacing should I set on my wheels to run on a standard gauge 4' 8 1/2" track?

Just saw your response. Yeah, it is a little light but I wanted to be able to transport it in the back of my truck. The aluminum frame is pretty stout and should handle the load and my wheel widths are adjustable with the wheel collars so I can adjust them on the track if necessary with a little trial and error. Just wasn't sure how much spacing to give between the wheel flanges and the rails. I hope to run it on some abandoned rails before they are turned into a rails for trails system near us. I especially want to run it across this trestle that my dog and I hiked the other day.

KH111Screenshot_20230419-140045_One UI Home.jpg
I thought I was posting in the same thread or whatever you call it.

Not sure which one you mean, so:

The threads are the pages of collected posts under the same title, like the one titled "Railbike" in that list.

The forums (or rather, sub-forums) are where the threads themselves are collected, such as the one your thread "Railcart Build" is in, called Ebike Build Threads.

If you were posting the things on this page we're reading now in the same thread as one of them, your posts would show up along with all of those posts, and wouldn't have a different title than theirs. ;)

I posted the search link in case you hadn't seen them, because most people that come here don't look for or read any of the existing content before asking questions. If you've already found all the related info and it didn't answer the questions, I'm afraid I don't have any further info to link here on this forum. (there could be info elsewhere, but I haven't looked for it).
Thanks, I did search before posting my question in the most relevant sub-forum/thread/etc but didn't really see any info. I did go out and measure abandoned tracks near me and the inside rail to rail measurement of 56 1/2 inches was pretty consistent, so I will probably give my flanges about an inch clearance on the rails. I couldn't find any rail cars to measure their wheel dimensions. The top of the rails (the rail head) was 3 inches wide so hoping my rear tire rides okay in the middle of it.

A quick google for railcar wheel width finds this site that probably has more info, but their search appears to be about as useful as ours, so the less-than-a-minute I had available to spend on it didn't find anything useful (or rather, found far too many results to sort thru).

I found a another spare minute or so waiting for something else on my computer, which let me find the following results:

A google search on one of the results' phrases
finds this USA federal railroad document that may be helpful.
I only scanned it for a few seconds, but this section may be relevant:
(e) Tire width. Flanged tires shall be no less than 51⁄2 inches wide for standard gage and no less than 5 inches wide for narrow gage. Plain tires shall be no less than 6 inches wide for standard gage and no less than 51⁄2 inches wide for narrow gage.

The wikipedia article
doesn't list any useful dimensions (if you find them perhaps you can add them to the article for future searchers ;) ).

This appears to be a manufacturer page on the subject

A wiki article that has some info that seems useful

These images
show various angles of wheels on rails that you may be able to use to determine overhang requirements.
Last edited:
In general, 'wide gauge', (gauge > 56-1/2") is fairly common - especially on old, disused / out of service tracks. 'tight gauge' (gauge < 56") is fairly uncommon as most all wear, train forces, etc, tend to push the rails apart.

Rail wheels - and by the looks of it, your 'railriders' - are designed to deal with fairly wide gauge. Conversely, any gauge tighter than the wheel spacing would likely lead to a derailment. Your cart certainly won't have enough weight / downward force to spread tight rails and keep on track.

So in summary, I'd probably set the wheels to deal with a narrowest around 55 to 55-1/2 inch gauge and it would handle much wider with no problem.
Thanks, I did search before posting my question in the most relevant sub-forum/thread/etc but didn't really see any info. I did go out and measure abandoned tracks near me and the inside rail to rail measurement of 56 1/2 inches was pretty consistent, so I will probably give my flanges about an inch clearance on the rails. I couldn't find any rail cars to measure their wheel dimensions. The top of the rails (the rail head) was 3 inches wide so hoping my rear tire rides okay in the middle of it.


Hello, fellow railbike builder.
This is only from my experience. I do not know if it is relevant to your build.

I, too, measure the inner distance of the rails. What I found is, the distance changes from one place another. Widest is 56 5/8" to
narrowest 56 1/4".
Looking at your photo of the track, your track is much better shape than ours. Anyway, I set mine at 56 1/4" but your wheels are different from mine. My side wheels are slightly toe-in by 1/8". That is, the distance between the leading edges is 56" and trailing edges is 56 1/4". Another difference is the material. Mine are harden steel( cogs) yours are poly. Inevitably, the wheels wonder side to side, no matter what you do. Will make a contact( hit) the side of the rail. Larger the gap, more the impact.
So, I would say, to set the distance at 56" and test it on the track at slow speed to see how it goes. Gradually increase the speed. Tweak it as you go. I set my top speed at 20mph. That is fast enough for me. I would watch the wear and tear of the flange carefully because the inner side of the rail is very rough. I found few metal flakes stuck on my side wheel that would cut a chunk off your flanges.

Another things you might want to watch are road crossings. Off course you have to watch out for the traffic but the gap between the rail and pavement might have been filled up with dirt, sometime hard packed. That's where your flanges pass through. Your choice is either clean the gaps before you make a cross or get off the bike and push it across. That's where the derailment happens the most.

One more thing. If you plan to sit on the bicycle to ride the cart, I won't recommend it unless you have another passenger to sit on the other side or in the middle, because of weight distribution. Railbike is very light by nature, flanged wheels need certain amount of weight to stay on the rail.

I am looking forward to see you riding your build. Keep on posting.
Last edited:
Lots of good info, thanks.

I originally set the wheel spacing just a little too tight on the rails, the poly flanges would rub a little too much and create drag, probably more than a steel wheel would. After increasing the spacing to give me about an inch clearance on the inside of the rail, the wheels would then wander a little too much on the rails as they corrected and the cart would oscillate side to side. I readjusted them to about a half an inch so hope to test it soon and see if I have it right. My weight is distributed nicely across the cart frame and it seems to ride just fine with only one person on a bike so far.

Biggest problem continues to be vegetation on the tracks, and the interested/concerned homeowners wondering what the heck I am doing. These tracks are scheduled to be removed and a rails to trails put in and some of the residents are not happy about that. They see it as their right of way being stolen for the project. I reasure them I am a rail enthusiast and that seems to be a good approach. Anyway, it's slow going as I clear trees and briars back enough to pedal by. I have a particular goal in mind to make it to a trestle over a lake, probably a many months long process with no guarantee of success.



  • Rail cart.jpg
    Rail cart.jpg
    48.6 KB · Views: 11
  • Saluda Grade Overgrowth.jpg
    Saluda Grade Overgrowth.jpg
    3.5 MB · Views: 11
I can help you out. I have built and maintained 10 bikes that run 22 miles a day for the past year. I have lost count around 2300 miles. 55in-56.25in is the sweet spot. My magic number is 55.75in. I take my tape measure, reach it across the track and hook it on the outside of flange and pull it to the outside of the other wheel. I had flange protectors made out of steel that I slip on over the existing flange. The steel really helps out on hot days in the turns. That being said, each section of rail has its own issues. I have a train crew that maintains my section every other week, but we still clear track everyday and have 3 crossings we have to scrape out. Good luck.


  • IMG_4527.jpg
    61.4 KB · Views: 6
Thanks for the info. You must be a commercial operator running that many bikes. Next time I put mine together (it is stored with wheels off for transport) I will measure my wheel spacing to see if it is close to yours. My trial and error method managed to get a good workable spacing.

Bystanders have suggested I make a business of my design but I assure them it's a one off thing and refer them to professionals like you.