1981 Plasser & Theurer EM-80 Track Geometry Car

In the tradition of showing almost any type of vehicle that’s powered by an engine or motor, or some other way of propelling that vehicle (even a pedal bike is fair game), we bring you one of the most unusual finds in a while. This is a 1981 Plasser & Theurer EM-80 Track Geometry Car, made for automated railroad track inspections. It can be found here on eBay in Pueblo, Colorado with an asking price of $395,000 or you can make an offer.

One of my favorite posts of all time was the 1944 Baldwin locomotive from this past May, seen here on Barn Finds. That locomotive was more of a romantic piece of railroad history from a more romantic era, an era that a lot of us would like to return to sometimes when the modern world gets us down. This track inspection car is a pragmatic piece of railroad equipment from the recent past. This is currently an older-style full-contact-wheel type of geometry system as opposed to a new laser-type system. This is best used in emerging countries which may not have had the track maintenance needed to keep weeds and other debris from blocking the laser beams which may then give inconsistent readings.

Needless to say, railroads are complicated systems and inspecting tracks are an important component in keeping that infrastructure safe and functioning as efficiently as possible. Prior to the 1920s, track geometry inspection was heavily laborious. It required scores of inspectors traveling every inch of the world’s railroad tracks, often on foot, and visually inspecting everything – it was very slow going. As both train speeds and train traffic increased, it wasn’t possible for such slow inspections and track geometry cars came onto the scene. These early track geometry vehicles were typically converted passenger cars pulled behind a locomotive, but by 1977, self-propelled track geometry cars were on the scene. These self-propelled track geometry cars measure the curvature, smoothness, alignment, and the crosslevel of the parallel rails, among other things, all done at a speed that’s safe for use on tracks being used by other rail traffic.

Needless to say, $395,000 isn’t going to get you the most updated version of a track geometry car. For those of you in high school in that era, you remember the teletype machines that were supposedly the future of computing and the equipment inside this rolling inspection car isn’t much different. A small crew would be inside reading the instruments and recording such data as the wear of the running edge of the tracks, the rail inclination, and any surface faults. Also, things like the soil temperature and ballast profile would be recorded and modern track cars videotape the tracks for a visual record that can be reviewed later. They can reportedly travel over 200 mph while recording track conditions but typically travel around 60-70 mph in order to work on freight and passenger rail lines at a similar speed to what other rail traffic is traveling.

The seller says that a modern version of this track geometry car would be several million dollars and this one could be restored and updated for a fraction of that price. They also say that the Detroit 2-stroke diesel engines onboard are restorable although they may not be the most efficient way to power this vehicle today. Here is a great YouTube video from Norfolk Southern Corp that gives a nice overview of how and why they use these cars. And, a YouTube video of a similar Plasser & Theurer car in New Zealand. This isn’t a vehicle that most of us dream about restoring and taking to a car (or, train) show, it’s just a little journey down the ol’ history rails here at Barn Finds. Have any of you worked for a railroad doing this type of work? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.


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  1. Gaspumpchas

    Some of the more recent track inspection equipment actually sends the data to a satellite, in addition to recording in the vehicle. Technology has changed the railroad industry and made it safer. Smoother trackbeds and continuous welded rail make the ride smooth and fast!

    Like 8
  2. jo6pac

    My only thought is I really need this. Then strip it down put in seats instead of the rail equipment change out the motor to something that works. It would be like a motor home for the rails. It would be my over sized speeder;-)

    Like 7
    • Dave

      I wonder how much per mile the various railroads would charge to use this as a private transport.
      Heck, Kim Jong Un loves trains, maybe he’ll grab it?

      Like 7
      • glen

        If he wants it , make sure the brakes don’t work!

        Like 12
      • Alexander

        They charge such users a “king’s ransom” just to make you go away and perish the thought. They truly don’t want the risk exposure nor the interference (sometimes substantial) with their freight schedules and their normal operating routines.

        Historic, non-propelled “private cars” do exist, and their owners can pay Amtrak to have their cars attached to regular trains. But recently Amtrak (in measures bringing about politically-tinged accusations against current appointed management) raised the fees and conditions for such usage to the point where it’s all but impossible–even billionaire owners have resorted to parking their cars in long-term storage as a result.

        Bill Gates chartered a private train for his honeymoon across Canada with Melinda years ago. I would dare to say even he might not have enough money or clout to pull off such a train again.

        If you acquired this car or a similar car, you MIGHT be able to find a “short line” small railroad that MIGHT be willing to store, and occasionally operate, this car–but only with the line’s own crews, when they let you. But being able to roam the national rail network like it was an RV? No way, Jose.

        Like 14
  3. Jack M.

    When I first saw this post I thought to myself yeah I enjoy a few drinks 🍷 as much as the next guy on a national holiday.
    Cheers 🍻 Scotty!!!

    Like 6
  4. Terry Trekas

    My first thought was that this would make a great guest cottage. But not at $395k……..

    Like 4
  5. Haig Haleblian

    Another $30k would have put a very nice Ferrari GTO replica in your country club man cave.

    Like 2
  6. Fred H

    Hello U Ship how much to transport a 1981 Plasser & Theurer EM-80 Track Geometry Car ?

    Like 6
    • Haig Haleblian

      Passport Transport?

      Like 1
  7. hugh crawford

    I hear these things corner as if on rails.
    Turning circle is a joke however.

    Like 17
    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Oh man, that is very tempting, angliagt! Nice find!

      Like 2
    • JagManBill

      get a travel trailer converted to add rail wheels and jump on and off where you want/need to. Still get to see America by rail!!

      Like 1
  8. Rube Goldberg Member

    ” I’ve been workin’ on the railroad, all the livin’ long day”,,,track sold separately,,200mph, yeah, right, maybe at the end of the day. “Move this thing, Floyd, happy hour ends in 20 minutes”,,

    Like 2
  9. Governor

    What do you get when you cross Thomas the Tank Engine with a Winnebago?

    Like 2
  10. Jack Quantrill

    People in the Arizona deserts ride the small speeders on abandoned rail lines. This would be the Cadillac of speeders!

    • Hugh Crawford

      I know someone who once built a sidecar sort of thing to allow his motorcycle to run on rail tracks.

      He only ever tried it out on some tracks that were in the middle of the street on a spur line.

      Those abandoned desert lines sound like just the thing for that rig.

      Like 3
  11. Crazy Man

    Does that thing got a HEMI in it?

  12. lbpa18

    Cars and coffee, you’d be the talk!

    Like 1
  13. the one

    Just what I’ve been looking for! And to think, I found it, of all places, on Barn Finds! Just not sure I can fit all those numbers on a personal check..

    Like 3
  14. Clay Bryant

    Sure, you get my appetite wetted for this then I see it only has an 8-track stereo. Wouldn’t you be suspicious too. By the time and money I’d spend mounting my cassette player in it I’d be over budget. No thanks………….

    Like 3
  15. Bob McK Member

    I’m with Terry, nice guest cottage, but not at this price. I would love to know if it ever sells for anything other than scrap.

    Like 1
  16. Streamliner

    Seems there’s a flipper, wheeler-dealer opportunist for just about everything. ie: In the past few years I’ve seen a massive tunnel boring machine used to dig the Euro Chunnel Tunnel for sale on ebay.

    $395,000.? More like $3,950. scrap value. Seller says this 1981 Plasser & Theurer EM-80 Track Geometry car is selling for only pennies on the dollar of what it would cost to build new in 2019. That a new car sells for as much as $10M. But why would you? Eh hem.

    The $400K asking price is laughable. This 1981 Track Geometry car uses 1970s computer technology. Was disposed by D.O.T. because it’s almost 40 yrs old and hopelessly obsolete.

    Seller brags that Plasser & Theurer wanted to buy it back. Seems that would be the obvious solution here for a quick flip. Noteworthy that its still in Pueblo, CO. Hasn’t gone anywhere since being sold. Reason being — it will cost too much to move by road.

    Seller likely bought this at gov’t assets auction for maybe $25,000. (or less) Would cost $100,000 to move on road any distance. And then what would you do with it? A decommissioned industrial piece of equip. that industry has discarded. Like old locomotives and rail cars and tunnel boring machines.

    Like 2
  17. Wishful Thinking

    As of Oct. 24, 2019, this Plasser & Theurer EM-80 Track Geometry car has been on ebay for 2 months. 3 auctions. Price has dropped $100,000. from $395K to $295K. No sale. And it won’t sell when price is dropped another $100,000 to $195K. Seller should have sold this to the manufacturer who apparently offered to buy it back to take off market. I own many old computers from 1980s. Today they would sell for pennies on the dollar.

    Like 2
    • Wishful Thinking

      Update: As of Nov. 29, 2019, this Plasser Theurer EM-80 Track Geometry car has been on ebay for 3 months. 4 listings. Check out seller’s note:

      “REDUCED ANOTHER $10,000.00 11-24-2019 WAS $395,000.00 WAS $235,000 NOW $225,000.00. NO SALES TAX”

      What a bargain. At $225,000., now knock “0” off price. At $22,500. you might find a buyer…or not.

      Like 1
  18. R. Caffee

    Equipped with a Perkin-Elmer computer and a Data General hard drive this machine would print out a rail flaw “exception report” referenced to mile posts which would be turned over to RR maintenance of way personnel for action. It’s an Austrian design adapted to North American RR standards by Plasser American in Chesapeake Va. I think there were only 8 units sold in the U.S. due to high cost and the owners would lease them (including the operators) to other rail systems when they were idle.

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