The Aerotrain was a streamlined trainset introduced by General Motors Electro-Motive Division in the mid-1950s. Like all of GM's body designs of this mid-century era, this train was first brought to life in GM's Styling Section. Chuck Jordan was in charge of designing the Aerotrain as Chief Designer of Special Projects. It utilized the experimental EMD LWT12 locomotive (U.S. Patent D177,814), coupled to a set of modified GM Truck & Coach Division 40-seat intercity highway bus bodies (U.S. Patent D179,006). The cars each rode on two axles with an air suspension system, which was intended to give a smooth ride, but had the opposite effect.
The two Aerotrain demonstrator sets logged over 600,000 miles (970,000 km) and saw service on the following railroads:
- the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway;
- the New York Central Railroad;
- the Pennsylvania Railroad; and
- the Union Pacific Railroad.
Starting in February 1956 the Pennsylvania Railroad ran the Pennsy Aerotrain between New York City and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, leaving New York at 0755; the round trip was scheduled 7 hr 30 min each way. From June 1956 to June 1957 it ran between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
In March 1956 the Aerotrain made experimental runs for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in California as a San Diegan between Los Angeles and San Diego. Its use ended because the trainset had to be turned after each trip and it needed helper locomotives on the Sorrento Grade north of San Diego.
Starting December 1956 Union Pacific ran the ex-New York Central Aerotrain as the City of Las Vegas between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The train was eventually relegated to Chicago commuter service on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.
GM's "lightweight with a heavyweight future" was introduced at a time when US passenger train revenues were declining due to competition from airlines and private automobile travel. Although it featured a streamlined design, the Aerotrain failed to capture the imagination of the American public. The cars, based on GM's bus designs and using an air cushioning system, were rough riding and uncomfortable. The design of the locomotive section rendered routine maintenance difficult, and it was underpowered. Both trainsets were retired in 1966 after a decade's use. The Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, Missouri, and the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin each have one of the locomotives, and two of the cars.
Disneyland had a scale version of the Aerotrain, known as the Viewliner, from 1957 to 1959 (see below). Since 1958 the Washington Park and Zoo Railway in Portland, Oregon has operated a scale, diesel-powered replica of the Aerotrain (dubbed the Zooliner) to transport zoo visitors.
On June 26, 1957, the narrow-gauge Santa Fe and Disneyland Viewliner (billed by Disneyland as "the fastest miniature train in the world") commenced operation. Two separate trains, designed and built as scale replicas of the futuristic Aerotrain, traveled a figure-eight track through parts of Tomorrowland and Fantasyland parallel to a portion of the DLRR main line. The Tomorrowland train featured cars that were named for the planets, while the cars of the Fantasyland train were named after various Disney characters.
The modern, streamlined trains were placed in service to represent the future of rail travel, in contrast to the steam-powered DLRR which represented its past. Motive power for each train consisted of an integral head-end unit driven by an Oldsmobile "Rocket" V8 gasoline engine. Oldsmobile also furnished the windscreen, doors and instrument console for each of the two 5,000 lb (2,300 kg) locomotives. The attraction operated until September 15, 1958, when construction began on the Matterhorn and Submarine Voyage; the Disneyland Monorail System took the place of the Viewliner in June of the following year.
Idlewild Park in Reno, NV also has a train ride fashioned after the Aerotrain's locomotive.
The Zooliner, one of three trains on the Washington Park and Zoo Railway in Portland, Oregon, is a scale replica of Aerotrain. The Zooliner entered service in 1958. On June 14, 2008, the Oregon Zoo held a "50th Birthday" celebration for the locomotive, and it remains the primary train for the zoo.
- Magazine advertisement introducing the Aerotrain, Saturday Evening Post, December 10, 1955.
- Cathcart, Faith (June 13, 2008). "Fabulous at 50". The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon). p. F1. Retrieved April 11, 2012.
- "History of the railway". Washington Park and Zoo Railway. Oregon Zoo. Retrieved April 11, 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Aerotrain (GM).|
- The Aerotrain / GM's Most Modern Train at Automotive Hollywood: The Battle for Body Beautiful.
- The Failure of the Aerotrain article by Joseph M. Sherlock.
- Washington Park and Zoo Railway — operator of the Zooliner, a scale replica of the Aerotrain.
- Zooliner 50th Anniversary — Photos from the 50th Anniversary Celebration for the WP&Z Zooliner
- Bowser Manufacturing HO scale Aerotrain — includes a number of prototype photographs.
- KETC Living St. Louis "Aerotrain" – Video of train and its restoration at the Museum of Transportation