GM Aerotrain – The train that didn’t save the railroad…

Happy 2016. I’m afraid we have been very lapse and haven’t posted for a long time. We had lots of good intentions of posting at the very least a festive greeting but long to do lists left blogging at the bottom of the queue!

Anyhow we are here now and while we were researching the Parade of Progress story we also came across this rather stylish GM train…

The General Motors Aerotrain was designed by Chuck Jordan, GM styling department Designer of Special Projects in the mid 50’s. It utilised an experimental locomotive coupled to modified bus bodies.

At the time the railways were in trouble with the public preferring cars and subsidised buses and planes and the idea was to introduce super fast trains to try and win the customers back. General Motors’ vice president of styling, Harley Earl, began to discuss the possibility of marketing a new streamlined train that would wow rail travelers and be cheap for railroads to operate. Two demonstrators were made and toured the country in an attempt to sell the concept to various railroad companies but not enough research and development had been done and they weren’t successful.

Modelled on an intercity bus, the train was designed to be very lightweight and capable of speeds of over 100mph. They looked sleek and modern with great styling but were so underpowered that they required a diesel locomotive to help them climb high passes on the track. The innovative air suspension system was supposed to give a smooth ride but it was the opposite and very uncomfortable. The Aerotrain made it’s debut on the Pennsylvania Railroad in February of 1956. The Union Pacific also tried it with a service from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Fares were low – $17.99 round trip including free food onboard. The new service was much hyped – Liberace was in the engineer’s seat when the inagural run arrived at the Las Vegas station in December 1956.

By 1957 both prototypes were sold on for use as a commuter service where slower operating speeds would hopefully produce a better ride. Both Aerotrains were retired from service in 1966 – worn-out and unloved after only 10 years of service.
Aerotrain-brochure aerotrain-bwMuch of the design reflected car styling of the day. The rear end looked like the back of a 1955 Chevy Station WagonAerotrain-rear Aerotrain-bw2Aerotrain2 Aerotrain-driverAerotrain-snow Aerotrain-interior-bw Aerotrain-interiorAerotrain-leaflet1Aerotrain-leaflet2Aerotrain-leaflet3Aerotrain-leaflet4Aerotrain-Ad Aerotrain-museum2

aerotrain3Today the Aerotrains are in The National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Museum Of Transportation in St. Louis. A scale replica of the Aerotrain – the Zooliner – is in use in the Washington Park and Zoo railway in Portland, Oregon.zooliner4a