Video of Cambodia's homebrew "bamboo railroad"

At long last, here's video of the Cambodian bamboo railroad I wrote about in 2006; this being a homebrew railroad running at 40km/h off an electric motor, along decrepit and degenerating rails that only see one scheduled train per week. It's a pretty amazing ride.

床が竹、壁も天井もないカンボジアのバンブー・トレイン: (Thanks, Francesco!)


  1. Now I’m no mechanical engineer, but I know an electric motor when I see one, and that sir is no electric motor.

    You can tell because it has a piston and a gas tank. 

    1. But if it’s a generator, it does in fact produce electricity!

      Though I don’t know why they’d do it that way.. maybe it was the only power source they had on hand.

      1. There is a drivebelt going from the shaft down to the axle in the video. 

        I think it’s apparently quiet in the video because the whole ride is noisy and the camera has squelched the microphone’s sensitivity down to nothing.

        1. Sure, but that belt may produce some static electricity! It certainly looks like a hair raising ride…

      2. Taking the idea a little too seriously: Real diesel locomotives use electric propulsion rather than direct drive because only electric motors can provide full torque from a standing start. If this train was particularly heavy then at some point the tiny motor would be unable to get the train started, even if it had enough torque to keep it moving…

        But I think @disqus_UmQLR3uQZG:disqus below has the actual explanation. :)

        1. That is likely a real problem with that motor (being unable to start a heavy cart from a dead stop).  We assume that either the belt has some sort of clutch mechanism, or people just have to push to get the thing started.  My money is on the latter given how primitive the rest of the setup is. 

    2. The linked article says the engine is an electric generator engine, which likely means that it’s a gas engine ripped out of a generator.  I think that’s probably the source of the confusion.

    3. I came expecting a video of some folks riding rails in a homebrew vehicle previously written about in 2006, at which time that other home brew vehicle had been electric powered.

      Left satisfied.

  2. The bamboo trains I’ve seen in Cambodia didn’t have electric motors but small two-stroke engines. I can’t comment on this one since the video won’t load for some reason.

  3. I get the impression that, when your last major infrastructure buildout was courtesy of your ugly and traumatic colonial occupation, it is not a good sign.

  4. I’m no physicist, but if that “train” moving at that speed hit a rock (or, say, one of Cambodia’s notorious giant snakes) on the track, wouldn’t there be a nasty accident?

    1. Yes, but it’s not like road fatalities aren’t a huge problem over there already.  40kph isn’t excessively fast, and I’d bet you would be reasonably likely to survive as long as you don’t collide with anything but the Earth when you land.  Getting flung head first into a tree at that speed is deadly, but sliding along the ground maybe not so much. 

      As a western observer all I can say is “Come on people, put some handrails on there already.” 

  5. I’ve seen a longer version of this video (or one like it) a while ago.

    The thing that struck me most was the way they handle oncoming traffic.  The more lightly loaded car gets unloaded and disassembled.  When the other car has passed, they put it back together and continue on.

    I think the very beginning of this video shows the tail end of that process.  You can see another car in the background as they’re putting the wheels back on the track.

    Also – the ones in the other video all seemed to be powered by 2 stroke gas engines. I’m skeptical of the electric motor thing as well.

  6. This would actually work extremely well with a small triphase induction motor that they could easily get from a scrap washing machine! No clue where they would draw power from though. I bet even just one would run faster than 40km/h on a metal track w/ metal wheels like that. 

    1. The electric motor wouldn’t be a problem, but pretty much the only power source available to run it would be car batteries and an inverter.

      The little 2-stroke engine is just a better solution to this problem, except for the part where it kills the environment. 

      1. On the other hand… steel wheels on relatively flat steel track lose less energy to friction than rubber wheels on bumpy roads, and trains use less energy per-passenger than trucks and buses. So relatively speaking it’s saving the environment!

        I mean, almost the same kind of motor is used to run leaf blowers in more developed parts of the world. If fossil fuels were used only for small, remote infrastructure projects, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.

        1.  I don’t think they sell lawnmowers with 2-stroke engines any more, and haven’t for a long time.

  7. I have been on these type of trains a couple times in cambodia, i have a video somewhere on my hard drive. They are fun but as everyone has noted not the safest. They are definitely a gas engine with a drive belt. When two meet the lightest or least loaded one is disassembled (very quickly) and then reassembled once the other has passed.

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