The GM Aerotrain was a fantastically stylish and iconic train built
in the mid-1950s. The GM Aerotrain was typical of industrial design
of the time, with lots of chrome, and plenty of curves which were
designed to improve aerodynamics, but had the added bonus of looking
drop-dead gorgeous. It was penned by renowned car designer Chuck Jordan.
The main reason behind the GM Aerotrain was to offer rail companies
a lightweight, inexpensive locomotive which was cheap to maintain
and with reduced fuel costs. A secondary mission for the Aerotrain
was to try and inject some excitement back in to the public regarding
train travel, as more and more were turning to other forms of transport,
including cars, buses and airplanes.
GM built two examples of the Aerotrain, each complete with their own
custom-built passenger coaches. The locomotives were based
on GM's EMD LWT12 engines, while the cars were modified GM-built 40-seat
intercity units. Each car features two axles and an air suspension
system. The caboose featured a rear-end design which was similar
to GM automobiles of the time.
The two demonstrator versions of the GM Aerotrain were trialed
by several rail companies starting in 1956. They ran regular routes
on both the east and west coasts of the United States.
Unfortunately for GM and the Aerotrain, it failed in both its objectives.
The locomotives proved to be underpowered, and the air suspension
of the passenger cars was ineffective, resulting in a bumpy and uncomfortable
ride. Added to that, the streamlined all-encasing bodywork made maintenance
more complicated and time consuming. After a decade of carrying commuters,
both trains were retired in 1966, and no rail company placed
any orders for additional units.
What was once thought to be the answer to the declining popularity
of the train was quietly stubbed out. Thankfully both trains were
saved from the scrap heap, one now sits in the Museum of Transportation
in St. Louis, Missouri, while the other is held at the National
Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Interestingly, Oregon Zoo still operates a 5/8th scale version of
the Aerotrain (called the Zooliner) for carrying visitors around