What is Hi-Rail?



The term hi-rail is used to describe vehicles and machinery that have been modified to operate both on conventional roads and on railways. The name hi-rail comes from the shortening of highway and railway, and a vehicle that fits the term will generally have standard rubber wheels with retractable flanged steel wheels attached. But why have machinery that can do both? Why not just have rail specific and road specific machinery?

What is a Hi-Rail Machine or Vehicle?

A hi-rail machine or vehicle can, to some extent, be any machine or vehicle fitted with retractable flanged steel wheels. However, the need for this outside of rail and train maintenance is almost non-existent. That being said, hi-rail machinery and vehicles are a range of equipment that are needed to maintain railways and trains.

Hi-rail machinery, vehicles and equipment have a varied history. They first came about in the mid 20th century when town planners and engineers attempted to create buses and trams that could operate both on tracks and on the road. While hi-rail buses and trams were a good theory they did not work in practice. The same can be said for attempts to make road transferable trains.

It wasn’t until maintenance machinery and vehicles were modified to become hi-rail that the usefulness of road and rail operation was fully realised. Now there are companies across the globe specialising in the building, modifying and operating of hi-rail machinery and vehicles. The hi-rail machinery service the demands of local, state and national rail networks, ensuring both the trains and the tracks they use are in optimal condition.

Hi-rail machinery that can often be found on rail maintenance projects are:

  • Hi-rail telehandlers: Hi-rail telehandlers can be equipped with jibs, elevated working platforms and other specific machinery, however, are also relatively small and light, making them great all-rounder machinery for rail maintenance.

  • Hi-rail trucks: Hi-rail trucks are generally medium-rigid flatbed trucks that are used to transport equipment to rail maintenance sites. This can include things such as generators, attachments for hi-rail telehandlers, and other tools for maintenance workers. 

  • Hi-rail excavators: Hi-rail excavators are commonly used when major repairs need to be made to parts of a railway infrastructure that doesn’t have direct access to roadways. Hi-rail excavators are able to remove and reinstall tracks and sleepers with a range of purpose-built attachments.

  • Hi-rail dump trucks: Hi-rail dump trucks are capable of bringing large qualities of loose materials both to the maintenance site and remove debris, tree cuttings and waste quickly and efficiently. If the rail maintenance is a large scale project, hi-rail dump trucks are often deployed to keep up with the loose material demands of the project. 

How A Vehicle or Machine Becomes Hi-Rail Complaint

There are two main ways a vehicle or machine becomes hi-rail compliant, they are either purpose-built or retrofitted with aftermarket attachments. There are benefits and drawbacks to both methods but what option you choose often depends on where you are in the world and what options are available to you.

In Europe, it is very common to find purpose-built hi-rail machinery and vehicles, there are a number of manufactures that cater to the demand as railways are such a vital part of how the continent connects people, resources and freight. The hi-rail machines and vehicles manufactured in Europe meet the regulations and standards set by the European Union, anyone looking to export this equipment needs to be across the differences in the European standards and their local standards.

In Australia, we deal almost solely in retrofitted hi-rail machinery and vehicles that meet Australian standards. This is mainly due to hi-rail work being a highly specialised sector. As only a handful of companies work on the railways in each state there is not as high of a demand for purpose-built hi-rail equipment. In saying that there are a number of manufacturers that cater to the need for hi-rail retrofitting, ensuring that their machinery and vehicles will fit the additional retractable steel wheels.

Need to Hire a Hi-Rail Telehandler?

At Hi-Range Crane Forks we work closely with railway operators to keep their rail lines in optimal condition. Our experience with hi-rail machinery is second to none and we pride ourselves on our ability to operate on the rails both efficiently and safely. Our wide range of hi-rail telehandlers and attachments are capable of completing a range of tasks, get in touch with the team today to learn more about how we can help you.

Specialised Hi-Rail Equipment Available For Your Next Project


Contact Hi-Range Crane Forks today to receive your free quote. We’ll work with you every step of the way to create a customised plan that suits the size, scope and duration of your site. We are specialists in hi-rail equipment for the building, construction and rail industries in Sydney and throughout New South Wales.

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