Extensively used by railroad companies and vital to the railroad industry, a rail car mover moves small numbers of railroad cars around in railroad yards. The rail car mover eliminates the need of a switching locomotive and its operator. A lightweight vehicle when compared to much larger and heavier switching locomotives, the rail car mover is more convenient and cheaper to operate.
A rail car mover is capable of traveling on road wheels to move about the yard, eliminating the need for a clear track and making it a more efficient means to move the railroad cars. When moving railroad cars, the rail car mover lifts its rubber tires out of the way and engages its steel wheels to the track. The rail car mover is fitted with a coupler that connects the vehicle to the railroad cars.
Traditionally, rail car movers get their power from small 15-horsepower gasoline, diesel and liquified petroleum gas (LPG) engines. A newer line of battery-powered, radio-controlled rail car movers also has emerged. The battery-powered rail car mover is capable of moving 330 tons (299.4 metric tons) on level, straight track, and it has four rubber wheels, so it can be used on the road as well.
Some rail car movers have two drive systems: a rubber-wheeled system for moving about the yard and a steel-wheeled system for operating on rails, with the rubber wheels lifted out of the way. The steel-wheeled drive rail car mover has to transfer the railroad cars' weight onto its own wheels to gain the needed traction because of the extreme weight of some railroad cars. Rail car movers with rubber-wheeled drive systems produce their own traction and need the steel wheels only to guide them on the tracks.
There are a number of companies that manufacture rail car movers. One of the earliest brands was Trackmobile. The name has become somewhat synonymous with all rail car movers, but in actuality, it is just one brand of them.