Automotive

Mercedes designs Smart car-based train (for some reason)

Mercedes designs Smart car-bas...
The four-seat Smart mini-train hits the tracks
The four-seat Smart mini-train hits the tracks
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The Smart Forrail was able to complete its journey without falling off the rails
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The Smart Forrail was able to complete its journey without falling off the rails
The Smart Forrail had a licensed train driver behind the wheel during testing
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The Smart Forrail had a licensed train driver behind the wheel during testing
That's no model train; the Smart Forfour takes the tracks
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That's no model train; the Smart Forfour takes the tracks
Each steel wheel weighs 176 lb
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Each steel wheel weighs 176 lb
No tailgating worries
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No tailgating worries
Inside the Smart Forrail
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Inside the Smart Forrail
Inside the Smart Forrail
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Inside the Smart Forrail
The Smart Forrail surprised onlookers, some of whom were in town for a model train show
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The Smart Forrail surprised onlookers, some of whom were in town for a model train show
The Smart Forrail seems likely to be one of the oddest auto projects of the year, but the way things are going lately, who knows
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The Smart Forrail seems likely to be one of the oddest auto projects of the year, but the way things are going lately, who knows
Smart Forrail
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Smart Forrail
Smart Forrail
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Smart Forrail
Smart Forrail
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Smart Forrail
The four-seat Smart mini-train hits the tracks
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The four-seat Smart mini-train hits the tracks
In addition to its steel wheels, the Forrail had an immobilized steering system
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In addition to its steel wheels, the Forrail had an immobilized steering system
A different kind of automated navigation
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A different kind of automated navigation
Smart Forrail
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Smart Forrail
Smart Forrail
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Smart Forrail
The future of train commuting? Probably not
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The future of train commuting? Probably not
View gallery - 18 images

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."

That's no model train; the Smart Forfour takes the tracks
That's no model train; the Smart Forfour takes the tracks

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?

Source: Mercedes

View gallery - 18 images
19 comments
Freyr Gunnar
In the mean time, a non-insignificant portion of the population would like a 1-2 liter/100km car so they lower their gas bill.
Straw_Cat
It's not a "train" since it isn't pulling anything.
It could possibly be used as a railroad speeder by track inspectors and the like if and where the railroads still employe those folks.
But on the other hand, one does have to pull the speeders off the track every so often to allow a train to pass by. That could be a challenge with a sMart car.
if used, it would cost a lot less than what the railroads use now, larger trucks and SUVs.... especially the diesel versions of the sMart car.
MQ
Incredibly difficult.
Sure.
Whatever.
Like many other achievements in the production world, the most difficult part is getting the funding, and making an economic case for the "improvement".
Ooops sorry, this came out of the advertising budget, not the engineering budget, no cost analysis needed.
ClauS
In the country which invented the train they could not design a proper spoked wheel, all what they could do was to put an 80 kg metal slab at the end of an "incredibly difficult" conversion. I'm afraid to check what else this train engineering specialist is doing.
toolman65
steel wheels and such a short wheelbase? it must have been a very punishing and loud test run.
Larry Pines
I think it's rather obvious as to WHY they would 'do it' as can be viewed here - https://youtu.be/mkpCzp0CmjY
Actually, you DO know, this isn't such a far-fetched idea. Imagine commuting to work at a distance whilst sleepy. You drive onto the tracks near home, put the car into 'auto drive' and catch a few Zs while the tracks carry you to your destination. Coming home you could be snockered and still make it home safe - so long as the car knows where to stop.
Kinda puts a whole new slant on the 'shuttle car' doesn't it?
the.other.will
I've seen similarly modified pickup trucks in use on tracks near where I work. The railroad companies apparently have need of autos adapted to run on rails.
Rehab
Used to drive old chevys on the track all the time. As long as you don't touch the steering wheel all is fine. Just drive away when you come to a road crossing. There have been perhaps thousands of conversions done, first time I have ever seen milled solid steel wheels. Trust Mercedes to complicate such a simple solution.
Paul Gracey
It is interesting to note that for some time the wheel spacing of many American vehicles was about the same as standard gauge rail. For some that meant letting some air out of the tires would allow travel atop the rails, and of course our railroads use small trucks atop the rails with guide wheels for maintenance. This conversion seems rather pointless, as it has no rubber tires and doesn't allow driving off to complete the last mile. Further, I was expecting they might have tried pulling a wagon or two with it, to demonstrate that it can be done due to rail's low rolling resistance. Maybe MB execs thought it could do that too, having forked over the money for the conversion, but no, the car is way too light, and not recommended for towing even as original.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Lionel had a model of the "train car" in the '50's. Just a regular automobile with lowerable train wheels, front and rear. Drive on or off of track at crossing and raise or lower wheels.