Going Off The Rails: Living In A Train Car House

Living In A Train Car House


A train car conversion captures the latest in alternative housing trends while also embracing a historic aesthetic and renewable bearing. Tons of homeowners all over the world are taking to the idea of converting a train car into a tiny house.

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

I’ve been obsessed with alternative ways of living for over a decade, but I’ve just recently gotten into the train car conversion trend. It’s a highly unique, fairly inexpensive way to live and feel like you’re in another time!.

ryan mitchell simple living expert

What Is A Train Car Conversion? The Allure Of Train Homes

What Is A Train Car Conversion

Converted train car homes are old, vintage cabooses and rail cars that have been converted into fully livable tiny houses. After the tiny house movement took off in the early 2010s, other alternative living styles like these quickly followed suit.

Home designers began thinking of ways to use recycled buildings and natural materials to create immaculate, livable spaces like intricate treehouses, container homes, grain silos, and even houses built directly into the earth. These alternative builds laid down the tracks for an even quirkier, more outside-the-box building style: a train car home.

Converted train car home

what is the tiny house movement

Design Inspiration For Railroad Boxcar Homes

Design Inspiration For Railroad Boxcar Homes

You can be endlessly creative when designing your train car home. It’s up to you how much you want to lean into the vintage aesthetic or maintain more of a simple, minimalistic look.

Train Car House Interior Examples

There are myriad ways to design the interior of your own train car house. Many designers and homeowners of these avant-garde homes like to lean fully into the timelessness of the conversions and include pieces from the 1800s or 1900s. However, you have free reign to make your home as modern or antique as you please.

Living Room Design Inspiration For A Train Car House

The living room in a train car house is one of the easiest rooms to give a vintage makeover. You can accentuate your living room with leather furniture, lanterns, antique light fixtures, and vintage accents.

train car house interior
train car house inside

Bedroom Design Inspiration For A Train Car House

For the bedroom of a train car house, many people like to loft their beds to make use of vertical space. I’ve also seen train car bedrooms that are hidden away in a secret compartment behind sliding doors, which I think really complements the train car aesthetic.

train car conversion bedroom
train car house bedroom

Bunk beds are pretty popular in train car homes too. You’re also free to go the simple route and place your bed on the floor, up against the wall of your train car.

train car house bunkbeds
train car home bed
railroad car house bedroom
railroad train car bedroom

Kitchen Design Inspiration For A Train Car House

I love train car kitchens with window nooks that fill the kitchen with natural light. I also think it’s smart when the train car kitchen has counter space in the side corners of the train car. Putting a giant table in the middle of your train car will take up way too much space, so place large furniture items on the side walls of the kitchen.

train car conversion kitchen
train car house kitchen
railroad car house kitchen

Train Car House Bathroom Design

The best converted train car bathroom I’ve seen makes the most of the small space by placing the sink and counter directly next to the toilet and shower.

I also like how the bathroom is built out with intricate stonework and hardwoods.

train car conversion bathroom

Train Car House Exterior Examples

The exterior of your train car can also be designed in many ways. Some people take lots of liberties with the outside of their train cars when it comes to landscaping, adding hot tubs or balconies, and restoring the front of the train cars to their original, bright and shiny glory.

Simple Rail Car Exterior

When going the simple route, your train car house exterior might feature wooden stairs leading up to the home, gravel or stone surrounding the train, or a straightforward pathway leading up to the train car.

railroad car house exterior
train car house exterior
train car house outside

Porch Or Deck Added To Train Car Exterior

Many train car converters like to add a porch or a deck to their train car house. You can surround your porch or deck with wooden or metal railing.

train car house exterior with deck
train car house exterior with porch
train car house exterior with stairs and deck

Train Car Exterior With Raised Balcony

A raised balcony or rooftop deck is also an option in a train car home. One of my favorite train car homes I’ve ever seen was in the middle of the woods with a raised balcony that matched the height of the trees. The balcony railing resembled leaves to keep with the forest theme.

train car house raised balcony
railroad car house raised deck

Themed Train Car Exteriors

If you want to go the extra mile, deck out your train car exterior to look like a vintage train. Some homeowners use real railroad tracks, railroad crossing signs, fairy lights surrounding the property, or stoplights.

railroad car conversion themed design
railroad car conversion design
themed train car house
train car house with themed design

Train Car House Floorplans

Train Car House Floorplans

The floorplan you use for your train car house will depend on the design of the old rail car that you plan to convert. Keep in mind the features that are already present in the old rail car when designing your train car house, like the location of the bathrooms and windows, the general dimensions, and more.

Sofa Bed Open Train Car Floorplan

Open floorplans are one of the best ways to go for converted train cars because they feel far more spacious. This floorplan has a sofa bed, open living room and kitchen, and an enclosed bathroom.

Sofa Bed Open Train Car Floorplan

Sofa Bed Converted Train Floorplan

This converted train car floorplan is also entirely open and has room for a sofa bed in the living room. It also includes space for a laundry nook.

Sofa Bed Converted Train Floorplan

One Bedroom Open Train Car Floorplan

This open, converted train car floorplan has lots of room for guests. With the kitchen and living room being fully connected, it’s easy to integrate a pull-out couch and turn this small floorplan into enough room for two to four people.

One Bedroom Open Train Car Floorplan

One Bedroom Train Car Floorplan With Balcony

This converted train car floorplan is ideal for a couple looking for a second home or getaway. It’s complete with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room, and two balconies.

One Bedroom Train Car Floorplan

tiny house floorplans

Pros And Cons Of Converting A Train Car House

Pros And Cons Of Converting A Train Car House

While living in a train car is certainly whimsical and unique, there are also a few challenges that could arise. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons before deciding to buy or build a converted train car.

Train Car House Pros

  • Incredibly cool aesthetic
  • Layout of the interior already designed for you
  • Don’t have to build the exterior house shell
  • Can be cost-conscious when done well
  • Sturdy and durable exterior

Train Car House Cons

  • Can weigh 10 tons or more
  • Professional movers are required
  • Requires a solid foundation
  • Typically requires intense restoration
  • Thin ceiling, walls, and floors

The True Cost Of A Train Car House

The True Cost Of A Train Car House

A train car house conversion looks and sounds dreamy, but you’ll want to make sure this project is something you can realistically afford before diving in headfirst. It’s easy to get carried away with the planning before taking the time to run the numbers!

How Much Does A Real Caboose Cost?

The typical cost of vintage, steel-bodied boxcars and cabooses tends to be between $2,000 and $4,000 for one car. If you’re able to track down a vintage wooden car, those are typically cheaper than metal cabooses. However, they’re less durable.

how much does a tiny house cost

What Is The Cost To Convert A Train Car Into A House?

It will probably cost you somewhere between $20,000 and $60,000 to fully convert an old train car into a tiny house. This factors in interior designing, utility installation, landscaping, furniture, and other embellishments.

Rail Car Conversion Cost Breakdown

  • Shipping by highway: $1,200 for loading, plus $1.10/mile
  • Shipping by highway: $1.30/mile
  • Installation: $4,000-$7,000
  • Building Labor Cost: $300-$1,000 per hour
  • Exterior Restore: $1,000-$3,000 for up to 1,500 sq/ft.
  • Windows And Skylights: $4,000
  • Flooring: $300
  • Light Fixtures: $400
  • Insulation: $1,200
  • Plumbing: $700
  • Electricity: $2,800
  • Water Heater: $1,100
  • Bathroom Appliances: $1,400
  • Kitchen Appliances: $2,700
  • Furniture And Additional Embellishments: $500-$2,000

Where Can I Find Old Rail Cars For Sale?

If you’re looking for old, vintage boxcars and cabooses to convert yourself, there are several resources you can use to browse your options.

You can also check your local Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for these kinds of listings. Make sure if you go this route that you ask the seller questions about the quality and condition of the rail car before you make your purchase.

Buy A Caboose To Convert From:

Old Rail Cars For Sale

What Is The Cost To Rent A Private Train Car?

Renting a private train car costs anywhere from $70 to $300 for a single night. There are tons of converted rail cars for rent at a nightly rate or as a monthly stay on Airbnb.

FAQ: Common Questions About Converted Train Homes

Common Questions About Converted Train Homes

Converting a train car into a home might feel like a huge endeavor, so make sure you have all your questions answered and know what you’re getting into before starting your build.

What Are Different Uses For Converted Train Houses?

There are many different ways you can use a converted train car home to best fit your fancy. Some homeowners live full time in their converted train car as their main home. Others use the railroad car house as an accessory dwelling unit, guest house, she-shed, studio space, home office, pop-up-shop, or rental unit.

Are Converted Train Car Houses Mobile?

Converted train car houses are not mobile, they are built permanently on foundation. While the exterior aesthetic may lead one to believe these houses can ride along the cross-continental railway, the riding days of most of these cars are long gone.

How Can I Build My Own Converted Train Car House?

If you’re ready to build your own converted train car home, make sure you gather all of the tools and supplies you need and make a realistic budget before starting your conversion. If this is your first build or conversion, don’t be afraid. I’m a huge believer that anyone with the time, resources, work ethic, and willingness to learn can be a DIYer.

Steps To Convert A Train Car Into A Tiny House

  1. Buy an old train car to convert
  2. Lay your train car foundation
  3. Restore the train car exterior
  4. Restore the train car interior
  5. Add windows and doors
  6. Add additional light fixtures
  7. Install utilities
  8. Add final embellishments
How To Convert A Train Car Into A Tiny House

Is It Legal To Live In A Converted Train House?

In most US states, it is legal to live in a converted train home that’s secured permanently on foundation. Most issues with navigating tiny house building codes arise when you try to live in a manufactured tiny house on wheels as a full-time dwelling.

Since rail car conversions aren’t mobile, they should be legal in most states. Still, check with your local municipalities to make sure this is true before starting to build.

where are tiny homes legal

Are Railroad Car Homes Worth It?

In my opinion, converted rail car homes are worth the investment if you’re seeking a trendy home that defies the status quo. These homes are relatively inexpensive compared to other building types, the exterior or shell is already built for you, and they look incredibly classy.

Your Turn!

  • How will a train car house be part of your future plans?
  • Do you prefer more modern or historic vibes in a train car house?

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