Railbike Q&A, Issues and Terms
What is a railbike?
A railbike is a street bike or mountain bike fitted with special
attachments that allow it to ride directly on railroad tracks.
Is it difficult?
No! Railbiking is easy and fun!
What if I cant
ride a regular bicycle?
There is no balancing or steering required; almost anyone can ride a
You can! - anyone in reasonably good shape can railbike. We have had
riders in their 70s, 80s and 90s and children just big enough to reach
What about trains?
Railbike Tours, Inc. is conducting tours on track controlled by the
City of Tacoma through a special agreement. This section of rail is not used by Tacoma
Rail at this time.
Riding one is like gliding on a very smooth surface. There is almost
no traffic to contend with. You see scenery that is often not accessible by road.
Traveling through forest and farmland, railbikes are so quiet wildlife often doesn't know
you are there!
Where and how can I
buy a railbike?
See our Buying
Railbikes page for our policy for selling railbikes.
At this time, there are no federal regulations
specifically prohibiting railbiking. The Federal Railway Administration (FRA) has
jurisdiction over all railroad safety issues and will have the final say about railbiking
activities on active rail lines. Michael Rohde of Railbike Tours, Inc. is working to
develop strategies to establish railbiking as a safe, legitimate activity. Railbike Tours,
Inc. believes that commercial guided tours (and activities organized by a strong railbike
advocacy group) run in conjunction with railroad owners and operators is the most
promising way to develop this activity.
Despite the fact that thousands of miles of abandoned
railroad track exist in the United States, use of such rail without permission from the
legal owners of the right of way constitutes trespassing. There are legal arguments on
both sides, but the appropriate arena for resolving these issues is through negotiation
or, as a last resort, the courtroom - not on the rails themselves. Because of liability
concerns, it is reasonable that the owners of these properties would expect railbikers to
ask permission to use them. Again, Railbike Tours, Inc. believes that organized,
commercial railbiking and a strong railbike advocacy group is the answer to opening some
of these lines to railbiking activities by offering reduced liability through insurance,
waivers and safety guidelines as well as an economic return for the owners.
There are no known
deaths associated with railbiking worldwide. Research on the subject of railroad safety
has revealed no known accidents involving a train and/or automobile and a railbike. Pedal
powered vehicles called "dressin", similar to railbikes, used in Scandinavia are
routinely rented to the general public for use on designated abandoned rail. There is no
data at this time showing that these vehicles cause a significant number of injuries.
Anecdotal information from Swedish railbikers also reveals no particular safety hazards
associated with this activity.
Most people who
have built their own railbikes have stories about derailments that have resulted in minor
injuries. Railbike Tours, Inc. has always recognized that one of the keys to railbike
acceptance is a safe design. The safest designs are probably well built 'side-by' side
tandems which which do not tip over. It is also possible to build a 'outrigger' design
with a sufficiently low center of gravity and adequate counterweights that is very
safe. Improvements in design will continue in the same way that
automobiles have increased in safety over time.
Some of the most
often heard concerns about railbiking safety from railroad safety advocacy groups that
promote their oversight are:
...railbikes are unstable
...railbikes are too easily
transported and so cannot be effectively controlled
...people who see even a safely
run railbike operation will be inspired to take their bikes to the nearest track and try
to emulate them.
mentioned in the section above, railbike designs continue to be developed all the time.
Stable designs do exist and any commercial operator would not use an unstable design
because they would soon have no business at all!
for the issue of portability, there are a number of motorized rail vehicles which, if not
generally available for sale to the public, could be easily built by someone with a
reasonable amount of mechanical skill that weigh less than some railbikes and can be
folded up and moved by a single person. From a statistical as well as a practical
standpoint, railbikes are no more of a concern than any of these. Individuals who walk on
the track are the most portable of all -- we can hardly forbid the practice of walking as
an activity simply because it cannot be controlled!
for the third concern, building a safe railbike is not the easiest thing
in the world to do, in spite of comments to the contrary of some railbike
proponents who wish to give it an "everyman" quality. All railroad companies
know that there are already people trespassing on railroad rights of way, especially on
track that is infrequently used. Scheduled commercial railbike tours
would help short line railroads by providing a presence on the track that is an economic
impossibility for the short line to provide on its own. Railbike tours
would also provide another opportunity for railroad safety to be disseminated to the
NOTE: Railbike Tours, Inc. makes special
arrangements with railroads and right of way owners to obtain authorization to use their
track. For more information about railroad safety, please contact the Federal Railway Administration or your local or state
chapter of Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (Railbike Tours, Inc. is not affiliated
with either of these organizations)
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