North American Railcar Operators Association


North American Railcar Operators Association – ‘NARCOA’ - is a non-profit group dedicated to the preservation and the safe, legal operation of railroad equipment historically used for maintenance of way. The key phrase in this description is “   safe, legal operation”. NARCOA members operate their own privately owned railroad motorcars on railroads throughout the United States and Canada during railroad-sanctioned NARCOA excursions. Members travel through some of the most picturesque areas of the North American continent. Excursions vary from one-day, 25 mile trips between two towns to multi-day, 1000 mile trips covering several states or provinces! These excursions are organized by NARCOA Excursion Coordinators. All excursions are approved by and coordinated with participating railroads.

Railroad motorcars or ‘Speeders’ were used by the railroads to inspect the many miles of track for defects and to handle track maintenance.  Speeders have been phased out by the railroads in favor of Hy-Rail Vehicles, which are standard road vehicles with retractable guide wheels that can operate on road or rail. Railfans bought the scrap speeders and organized NARCOA in the mid 1980’s.  Running a speeder costs considerably less than boating or golfing although some think it’s a hot, noisy and smelly hobby! Some members also own and operate more modern Hy-Rail vehicles.

NARCOA MEMBERSHIP - NARCOA has over 1,700 members worldwide. Membership in the Association is open to anyone. No person is barred from membership due to race, religion, nationality, disability or sex. NARCOA welcomes everyone and it is easy to join. To obtain membership information, visit the "How to join NARCOA" page on the NARCOA web site ( ) where you can download a membership form. You can join on-line through the web site or by mail. . The web site has links to membership info, planned motorcar excursions, member advertisements, and to the bi-monthly Setoff magazine.  In fact, the primary method of communication within the group is through this web site.

Officially, as a member you must pay annual dues. Maintenance of your membership is subject to the standards of conduct found in the rulebook and to the eligibility standards as outlined in the by-laws. Unofficially, as a member you should have a willingness to adhere to safety rules, some mechanical ability to restore and maintain your motorcar, and some knowledge of railroad operations. And, most importantly, you should enjoy operating a motorcar with friends who also enjoy this marvelous hobby.

NARCOA HISTORY - The organization of NARCOA was started in 1980 as a simple list of motorcar owners, known as ‘The NARCOA Roster’. In 1986, NARCOA organized the first private-owner motorcar meet ever held. In 1987 we began publication of our official newsletter, THE SETOFF. In 1988, we were incorporated as a non-profit organization in the State of Delaware and started our insurance program. In 1989, we held the first handcar-only meet. In 1990, we started admitting local chapters. Today, we have grown to over 1,700 members worldwide.

NARCOA STRUCTURE - NARCOA is an all-volunteer organization. It is governed by four officers (president, vice president, secretary and treasurer) and an eleven member board of directors elected by the membership. Additionally, many members volunteer their time to keep the organization functioning. NARCOA has the following committees: Safety, Membership, Operations, Judicial, Rules, Communications, Elections, Hy-Rails, and Affiliates. NARCOA maintains a web site, a magazine, an on-line forum, and a motorcar resource library. There are several functional positions such as insurance administrator, webmaster and Setoff editor. All of these volunteers contribute to the smooth operation of the organization. The board members are elected to two-year terms from the following areas:

Area 1 - (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY, Rl, VT)
Area 2 - (DE, MD, NJ, PA)
Area 3 - (IN, MI, OH)
Area 4 - (AR, KY, NC, SC, TN, VA. WV)
Area 5 - (AL, GA, FL, MS, LA)
Area 6 - (IL. MN, WI)
Area 7 - (IA, ND, NE, SD)
Area 8 - (All of Canada & International)
Area 9 - (CO, KS, MO, OK, TX. NM, UT)
Area 10 - (AK, ID, MT. OR, WA. WY)
Area 11 - (AZ. CA, Hl, NV)

SAFETY – Safe operation of member-owned railroad equipment is critical to the success of NARCOA. NARCOA publishes a rulebook with motorcar requirements and other common sense safety rules. This rulebook is the baseline set of rules for all NARCOA insured excursions. Members must pass an operator certification test based on this rulebook in order to be eligible to operate a motorcar on NARCOA excursions. It is an open-book test designed to ensure that members read and understand the rules. A certification card is issued to members who pass the test. In addition, new operators must be mentored by an experienced operator before being allowed to operate independently. Instructions on obtaining a certification card are sent to all new members along with a copy of the current rulebook.

EXCURSIONS - There are three ways to find out about excursions: 1. Our bimonthly publication, THE SETOFF; 2. Flyers sent by mail to members; and 3. The NARCOA web site Each member operating a motorcar on an excursion must pay a fee. The amount can vary according to the cost of putting on an excursion. Some railroads charge a fixed fee for each car, and some require railroad employees to act as pilots. Costs vary and usually are between $25 and $150 per run. For longer trips the cost is higher. The length of runs can be as little as 10 miles to as much as 1000 miles.

At excursions, you will meet people from all walks of life. You will see families. There will be friends who met through this hobby. You won't see alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs. Their possession will get you booted off the railroad and out of NARCOA. Maintaining a good safety record is necessary to continue operating on railroads. This not only includes operation of motorcars, but good behavior around trestles, structures and operating trains. We operate because of the trust that railroad management has in us. This trust has come through professional behavior and goodwill developed over many years. Motorcar excursions are for owners to operate their cars. Paid riders are not allowed especially on tourist lines, which don't expect to lose revenue to us. Motorcar operators, at their option, sometimes let friends or others ride along.

If a motorcar stops running during an excursion, the "five minute breakdown rule" may be invoked. The operator has five minutes to get his car running before being towed. Where we are scheduled to meet a train, a car may be towed immediately. However there are many folks on every excursion who will be glad to give advice or even lend you a hand.

MOTORCARS - The pages of THE SETOFF have a large list of motorcars for sale. The NARCOA web page also has a section for member advertisements. A motorcar price depends on condition and desirability. As the demand increases, due to NARCOA providing opportunities for their use, motorcar prices are steadily rising. The price range for a decent car is from $2,500 to $10,000.

Fairmont supplies some parts for their cars but lately they have been discontinuing a lot of parts. Some members make after-market parts. Other members have bought out railroad stocks of repair parts and have made them available to other members. Each motorcar owner is responsible for meeting NARCOA safety standards for their motorcar as outlined in the rules and for the proper maintenance of the motorcar. Equipment inspections take place at many excursions. Serious safety defects are extremely rare because of frequent inspections and owner vigilance.

Trailers are the most popular way to move a motorcar to an excursion. Snowmobile trailers, utility trailers, and boat trailers can be adapted. Trailers have been homemade and several members sell custom designed motorcar trailers.

INSURANCE PROGRAMS FOR NARCOA MEMBERS - NARCOA has a 10 million-dollar excursion insurance policy for members. The current member cost of the policy is announced annually in the NOV/DEC issue of THE SETOFF. There are two separate insurance programs available for NARCOA members. The first program is our Railroad Liability Insurance Program which is required by NARCOA if a member plans to operate a motorcar at a NARCOA insured excursion. Many NARCOA members also participate in our second program and buy insurance to provide physical damage coverage for their motorcars. Application forms and information on the insurance program can be downloaded from the NARCOA web site page - "NARCOA Documents and Forms".

THE SETOFF - The Setoff magazine is the official publication of NARCOA. It is published six times per year. It has club news, technical articles, safety tips, trip reports, want ads, and a list of upcoming excursions. The SETOFF is only available to members, either by download from the NARCOA web site or in a printed format.

STATE LAWS - In general, motor vehicle laws exempt rail vehicles, such as motorcars. For instance, it is legal to operate on rails in city streets without vehicle registration or state license. Some states have adopted the NARCOA rulebook for excursions on state-owned railroads.

MOTORCAR BUILDERS AND TYPES - five main companies and several dozen smaller companies once manufactured motorcars.

Fairmont Railway Motors of Fairmont, Minnesota was the largest and most successful motorcar manufacturer. Motorcars are now a minor part of the business. They still supply some motorcar parts. The company is owned by Harsco Industries and has been merged with Tamper. There were three different types of motorcars built. INSPECTION cars for light maintenance weighed from 600 to 1,000 pounds and could transport 2 to 4 people. 1 or 2 cylinder engines powered them. SECTION cars transported 6 man section crews and weigh 800 to 1,000 pounds. They have the same engines as inspection cars. GANG cars were used for transporting work gangs of up to 100 men. They could pull trailer cars loaded with tools and men. They weigh from 1,500 to 5,000 lbs. and are powered by 4. 6, or 8 cylinder engines.

Fairbanks Morse: F-M bought Sheffield in the 1920's and manufactured motorcars at Three Rivers, Michigan until selling their motorcar interests to Fairmont in 1955. Fairmont supplied F-M replacement parts for a short time. F-M is now a part of Colt Industries.

Buda: Built motorcars in Harvey, Illinois until the late 1940's. They then concentrated on truck and tractor engines.

Northwestern Motors: Located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin stopped production of motorcars in the late 1950's and sold their parts stock to Fairmont who supplied them for several more years.

Kalamazoo of Kalamazoo, Michigan sold their motorcar business to Tamper in the 1960's. Tamper produced an unsuccessful line of motorcars for a short time. Tamper is now part of Harsco Industries of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.

Copyright; NARCOA 1997-2013