Open source streetcar/trolley design. Any interest in this?

  • I have no idea whether this will go anywhere. But I wanted to suggest something in case a few somebodies with engineering degrees want to take it on. How about creating an open-source design for streetcars that any small municipality (or even well-funded hobbyist) can follow to bootstrap a system? Such systems -- think of the Kenosha trolley or the Old Pueblo trolley -- tend to inspire people to expand into larger systems, so this could be viewed as a way to bootstrap local mass transit all over the country. Some likely subprojects:

    • An open-source design for trolley wheels. These might be metal, but maybe not. For an extremely lightweight vehicle, wooden wheels with plastic rims might be sufficient.

    • An open-source system for setting up rails. Again, these might be metal, but they might also be concrete if the vehicle is light enough. Concrete is a lot easier to buy. Maybe it's a combination of concrete and off-the-shelf metal components. In any case, it should be standard-gauge, since we're trying to bootstrap trolley systems that will eventually work with professionally built streetcars, and the fastest way to do that is to build a stub that can be expanded later.

    • An open-source design for a handcar. This might be easier to put together in the short term than a full-scale trolley. As with the trolley subproject and the track subproject, this should be standard-gauge.

    • The trolley itself. This is probably the culmination of the work done during the other three projects. It should still be fairly tiny and lightweight for a trolley, since it will (at least initially) be operating on open-source infrastructure -- i.e., maybe on concrete rails.

    Anyhow, as the bullet points make clear, the idea would be to build something primitive and cheap, then gradually upgrade all of the pieces to more professional quality once a proof of concept has been driving around for awhile.

    Any interest?

  • @patrickmaynard cool concept you've generated here. You've obviously put a lot of thought into this.

    While the overarching vision is inspiring, my suggestion would be to start with a much smaller kernel of a problem that a small group can reasonably complete in a small amount of time. Kind of following the "Lean Startup" approach where you validate the idea early and often without going off and building in the darkness for a long time.

    What do you think could be the first step?

  • Good call. The wheels would probably be the first step.

  • agreed, start small is good advice I think. @patrickmaynard you've laid out a nice vision for the components but there might still be a barrier to getting people involved as it looks like a big hairy problem upon first glance. It would be really admirable if you could get anything off the ground. Proving the value of the concept is paramount to get any kind of support

  • @patrickmaynard I like the core idea. Have you put any planning on paper for this yet?

  • @patrickmaynard Talk to trolley museums. Also note that many parts could be 3D printed. Talk to hackerspaces about this. One starting point would be to get an old car when it's scrapped and disassemble & document.
    The flip side of this would be for the various streetcar & light rail operators to get together and design this. This is sort of what happened a century ago when the streetcar industry designed the highly successful PCC cars (altho they weren't open source). The same would also apply to subway cars.

  • @gippgig has got it right. If this is to ever turn into reality, the key will be to talk to stand on the shoulders of those who have worked on this problem or similar before rather than starting from scratch

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