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Railbike Tours Inc. - Questions and Answers

Enjoy a truly unique experience!  For bicyclists and non-bicyclists alike!

As seen on KING-TV's Northwest Backroads, Sunday, April 23, 2000

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 can’t ride a regular bicycle?
There is no balancing or steering required; almost anyone can ride a railbike.

Who railbikes?
You can! - anyone in reasonably good shape can railbike. We have had riders in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and children just big enough to reach the pedals.

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.

Why railbike?
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.

Present Day Railbiking Issues and Terms

"Active Rail"

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.

"Abandoned Rail"

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.

Safety History

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:

  1. ...railbikes are unstable

  2. ...railbikes are too easily transported and so cannot be effectively controlled

  3. ...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.

As 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!

As 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!

As 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 general public.

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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