Taking Inventory: Rails


Minecraft wouldn’t be Minecraft without mining. But getting in and out of your mine can be a pain. If you’re anything like me, you end up digging a long angled passage down to bedrock, involving a lot of hopping until you dig out enough cobble to put down some stairs. Even then it’s still a bit... pedestrian.

But there’s another way. A better way. A faster way. A smoother way. A way where you get to shout “wheeeeeeeeeeeee” as the cave walls whizz past you. A railway.

Rails (and minecarts) were added in the first “Seecret Friday” update on 10 June 2010. They’ve been tweaked a lot over the years, mostly to fix weird bugs, but also to add various new kinds of rails. As well as regular rails, there are now powered rails (which accelerate a minecart), detector rails (which send a redstone signal when a minecart passes) and activator rails (which activate minecarts that travel over them).

Getting hold of rails requires either crafting them from iron and sticks (six iron and one stick become 16 rails) or hunting down an abandoned mineshaft and ripping them up off the floor. You might also find a few in a woodland mansion. A pickaxe is the best tool to collect them with precision, but if you need to collect a lot then it’s actually faster to plop down a bucket of water – which will wash them all away.

The era of railway travel in the real world is usually said to have started with the invention of the steam locomotive in the early 1800s, but rails themselves are actually much older. “Wagonways”, with wooden rails and carts pulled by horses, were widely used in the 1500s to transport ore out of mines in Europe.

But the oldest-known railway is almost 2000 years older than that! There’s evidence that the Ancient Greeks used a primitive railway called the Diolkos, paved with stone, to transport boats across the eight-kilometre-wide Isthmus of Corinth. It operated until the first century AD, and there are still a few remnants of the route today.

The modern railway, with metal rails, came into being in the mid-1700s, after the invention of the steam engine dramatically increased production of iron. The new metal rails were much more durable and could hold a lot more weight, making them more practical as permanent transport infrastructure.

Today, there are high-speed railways all around the world – the fastest is the Fuxing Hao CR400AF/BF in China, which can cover the distance between Beijing and Shanghai at an astonishing 249 miles per hour, or just over 400 kilometers per hour.

By comparison, Minecraft’s minecarts are capable of a maximum speed of just eight miles per hour. Why are you making that face? They don’t have seatbelts. It’d be dangerous if we let you travel any faster, and we’re a responsible game. So take it slow, and ride your minecart into that cave full of bloodthirsty hostile mobs safely. You’re welcome!

Written by
Duncan Geere