Sunday, April 28, 2013
The Aerotrain: A Source of Inspiration
The September 1955 GM Powerama in Chicago was one of the largest of its kind, lasting 26 days at a cost of $7 million dollars. Some of the highlights included the first solar-powered electric car, a tractor hoe-down with choreographed tractors square dancing, a Bulldozer vs. elephant event, and the GM Aerotrain (see above photo), designed by Chuck Jordan (Chief Designer of Special Projects).
According to advertisements, The Aerotrain was supposed to...
"help railroads solve the problem of a $700 million yearly loss in passenger service.
Pulled by a General Motors Diesel locomtoive, this new 10-coach Aerotrain brings an entirely new concept of speed, comfort, safety and economy to rail travel. It's light, lower and faster — and a novel Air-Suspension system gives you the smoothest, most comfortable ride you've ever had.
Forty passengers per coach travel in air-conditioned comfort at sustained speeds of 100 miles an hour and better."
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 (see photo above) and San Diego. Because the trainset had to be turned after each trip and it needed helper locomotives on the Sorrento Grade north of San Diego, the Aerotrain run between the two cities was short-lived. Here it is in San Diego:
In the summer of 1957 Union Pacific ran the Aerotrain as the City of Las Vegas between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Here's a vintage photo of it at Union Station in LA:
Bob Gurr fell in love with the design of the Aerotrain and it served as his inspiration for the (also) short-lived Viewliner at Disneyland. Bob told me that Chuck Jordan, the Aerotrain designer, passed away a few years ago.
Despite what the ads promised, the Aerotrains were rough riding and uncomfortable. Because of the design, routine maintenance was difficult, and the train was underpowered. The Aerotrain was retired in 1966 and has become the stuff of romantic legend.
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