Monorails are a mode of rail transport that is yet to break into the mainstream, despite decades of research and development on a wide variety of track standards. Most monorail trains are suspended from a track, or run on top of it, but in the 1930s Ukrainian engineer Nikolai Yarmolchukom came up with something complety different – the Шаропоїзд.
Popular Science, February 1934
Called Шаропоїзд, Ukrainian-language Wikipedia described it:
Шаропоїзд was a monorail train design created by an engineer Nikolai Yarmolchukom in 1932- 1934. The train moved on ball-shaped wheels with built-in electric motors, which were located in semicircular timber troughs. A 1/5th scale model of the train was built to test the concept, and travelled at speeds of up to 70 km/h. It was assumed that the full-scale design would reach speeds of up to 300 km/h, running on concrete tracks.
The track and wheel design can be seen in this cutaway drawing.
Popular Science, February 1934
With this newsreel footage showing the 1/5th scale train running on the test track.
Junctions were possible – using what appears to be a stub switch.
Power was supplied by three overhead wires, which suggests a three-phase AC system powered the train.
In October 1933 Russian magazine Ogoniok ran a piece on this unusual monorail train (via Russian Wikipedia):
The train on the ball
(October 20, 1933)
As early as 1924 inventor N. G. Yarmolchuk planned to use the ball principle of motion on transport. Vaguely it seemed to him – it would be a ball, a hollow ball, inside which mechanisms, the necessary devices, people. At first, thus, the ball transport was a completely utopian venture. Five years passed. The former engineer was already a student, he studied at the Bauman Moscow State Technical University , and then at the Moscow Power Engineering Institute, and by 1929 the idea of ball-electro-tray transport had matured completely.
The cylindrical car has two points of support in two balls located under the car in front and behind. Developing an enormous speed – up to 250-300 kilometres per hour – the cars are not afraid in the way of abrupt changes in the profile: like a “roly-poly toy“, Forcibly dumped, immediately assumes the usual position, only the external force is eliminated.
After the report of the inventor to the Council of Labor and Defence, a special bureau with a staff of specialists was created. Provided extensive, specially fenced field for experimental work and a million rouble budget.
89 people – engineers, technicians, masters, carpenters, locksmiths – built a wooden pilot track with a length of 3 kilometers, models of cars, and a small electrical substation. And now, in 1933, Yarmolchuk’s idea was tested and confirmed practically.
You can climb into a small model tin car. Lying down you fit in it. For convenience, a soft mattress is placed inside the toy car. You race not in a straight line, but in a circle. The car slightly rolls and straightens again: counteracting the centrifugal element.
If the toy tin cans rush along the simplest wooden track at a speed of 70 kilometre per hour, then the real operational train will actually perform a 300 kilometre per hour speed.
The idea of the invention has already been tested on an experimental laboratory track. The Council of People’s Commissars obliged the People’s Commissariat of Railways to build a 20-25 kilometres long experimental operational railway using Yarmolchuk’s design.
As did US magazine Popular Science in February 1934.
Fragmentary and conflicting reports from Russia of a revolutionary new type of railway under secret test there, which aroused the curiosity and interest of the American engineering world, have just been followed by the first complete details of the new system, and actual photographs of a working model in operation.
Fully as remarkable as advance reports, the system proposed by M. I. Yarmanchuk, its inventor, calls for streamlined trains running at 125 miles an hour on giant, flattened spheres, twelve feet in diameter, instead of wheels. Each car is supported by two of these spheres, one at each end, and they are whirled by electric motors contained within their shells and mounted on the rigid axles. Since the centre of gravity of the car lies below the axle, the car is not top heavy and will not easily overturn. A single curved trough of reinforced concrete serves as a track, entitling the strange system to be classed as a monorail.
According to the inventor, this track should cost no more than a standard automobile highway to build. To test his scheme, the inventor has built and operated successfully near Moscow, a model railway with twenty-four-foot cars on a mile-long track. Plans are now under way to construct a thirty-mile railway on the same system, with 120-foot cars.
But the train was not to be – again from Ukrainian Wikipedia:
In August 1933 the Council of People’s Commissars approved a resolution “On the construction of a pilot Yarmolchuk rail system in the direction of Moscow-Noginsk“. However, the same problems faced by other monorail (high of cost and complex switching tracks) as well as problems with snow blocking the trough in winter led to the project being abandoned.
More 1930s footage of the test train can be found here: