Here’s how to make railway tracks safe for cyclists


With veloSTRAIL, there’s no wide gap for wheels to get stuck in. (Kraiburg Group)

Your average train or streetcar track is built with little regard for those on bikes, rollerblades or in wheelchairs. Thin wheels can get caught in the flange gap unless it is carefully crossed at a 90 degree angle. Seattle, for one, has installed sharrows (shared-lane markings) to encourage those at risk to cross at a safe angle. However, a better more universal solution is available from a company in Southeast Germany.

The Kraiburg Group sells veloSTRAIL, a rubber strip that covers nearly the entire flange gap. The remaining space is too small for even the thinnest wheels to lodge in. Someone on a bike or wheelchair can cross the tracks at any angle without worrying about being thrown to the ground or stuck in the tracks. Trains and streetcars can still traverse tracks with veloSTRAIL provided they don’t exceed 75 mph.

Notice how the train wheel crosses veloSTRAIL and pushes the protective rubber downwards.
Notice how the train wheel crosses veloSTRAIL and pushes the protective rubber downwards. A bike or wheelchair won’t have the same effect. (Kraiburg Group)

“The train wheel will simply deflect the rubber, because it is very flexible. Afterwards it pops back out,” explained Willy Molter, an export director at the company.

The idea came for veloSTRAIL came from a workshop in 2007 held with current and prospective customers to learn what they liked about its products, and what they didn’t like. After getting the suggestion, its engineers began designing a safer crossing.

In 2008, the technology made its debut in Austria. It’s now between 5 and 10 percent of the Krailburg Group’s railway crossing business. Motler say veloSTRAIL costs 15 percent more than traditional alternatives. For now, its business is focused in Europe and New Zealand, but it’s considering an expansion to North America.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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