It seems like Toyota sent a case of whatever it was drinking last week over to Mercedes UK. In a development every bit as weird as the Lexus hoverboard, Mercedes has designed a Smart Forfour-based train. That's right, a four-seat Smart mini-train. It's called the Smart Forrail, and while no one's all too sure why it exists, it does. Or at least it did briefly.
The train and the Smart car exist at absolute opposite ends of the transportation spectrum. One is a large, powerful means of transporting the masses, the other one of the world's truly diminutive commuter cars built to efficiently wheel a well-acquainted quartet to and fro. There's really no reason we can think of why anyone would want a Smart car rolling on a set of train tracks – outside of creating a bit of novelty-based publicity, we suppose.
Publicity seems to be about all Mercedes really accomplished with the Forrail, and according to its account of the project, it didn't come easy. Mercedes and company actually spent six long, hard months on the Smart train, calling the conversion from car to train "incredibly difficult." We'll add "incredibly weird," with just a touch of "oddly intriguing."
Working with British train engineering specialist Interfleet, Mercedes-Benz UK went through a rigorous CAD modeling and engineering program to transform the four-seat Smart car into a functional mini-train. The most obvious aspect of the conversion is the set of 22-in (56-cm) solid steel wheels. Each wheel weighs 176 lb (80 kg) and gives the car the traction it needs to navigate the tracks. With wheels set on railroad tracks, the Forfour's steering is entirely unnecessary, so the team disabled the steering wheel and welded the front axles in place to prevent any unwanted wheel movement.
If you're going to go through that much trouble to build a Smart train, you damn well better see if it works. Mercedes and Interfleet tested the car-train out on a 10-mile (16-km) stretch of Bluebell Railway track through Sussex. Bluebell staff closely monitored the experiment, and the train "car" drove at low speeds, managing to complete testing without derailing.
It goes without saying that the Smart Forrail won't be pulling into a train station near you. In fact, that six months of intensive work has already been reversed with the vessel converted back to street form shortly after its track tests. Mercedes also dissuades other parties from trying a similar conversion, stressing the difficulty of the endeavor. Plus, why the heck would you want to?