Written by: Gary Dolzall
Take a Train Simulator journey to the 1950s in the streamliner that symbolized the decade – the Aerotrain!
Train Simulator and acclaimed partner programme member DTM (Digital Train Model) take you on a journey back to the fabulous 1950s aboard the train that came to symbolize that decade – the General Motors Aerotrain, now available at the Dovetail Games and Steam Stores!
As the railroad passenger business in North America grew ever more challenged in the 1950s, one proposed savior for the industry was the lightweight streamliner, a concept which promised the railroads lower capital and operating costs compared to traditional equipment – and offered passengers lower fares and the panache of riding aboard unique and futuristic streamliners.
A veritable “who’s who” of railroad equipment manufacturers, including Budd, Talgo, Pullman-Standard, American Car & Foundry, Fairbanks-Morse, and Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton lined up to offer various lightweight designs – but none exceeded in either bold styling or public buzz the lightweight train constructed by General Motors and christened the “Aerotrain.”
To create the Aerotrain, General Motors enlisted its portfolio of industrial divisions, involving not only locomotive-builder Electro-Motive, but Detroit Diesel and GM’s Truck and Coach division. Motive power for the Aerotrain came in the form of a locomotive designated the LWT12 equipped with a standard EMD 567-series, 12-cylinder, 1,200-horsepower power plant as was employed in EMD’s switcher line; the power truck for the Aerotrain locomotive was a two-axle Flexicoil truck often employed on EMD switchers and light road-switchers. For “hotel power” (HEP), the Aerotrain locomotive was equipped with a pair of Detroit Diesel six-cylinder diesel power plants and accompanying generators. The Aerotrain’s coaches were based upon GM’s standard 40-passenger intercity bus carbody, which for rail service was widened by 18 inches and rode on two axles per coach. The Aerotrain was originally envisioned to include a 10-car train set capable of carrying 400 passengers. As for the Aerotrain’s futuristic styling, General Motors called upon its styling staff studio.
GM built two Aerotrain demonstrators and the lightweight streamliner made its debut in January 1956 when one of the demonstrators ran from Washington, D. C., to Newark, New Jersey on the Pennsylvania Railroad while the second hurried from Chicago to Detroit on the New York Central. The Pennsylvania leased one Aerotrain and utilized it as a nine-car train set in New York-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh service. The second Aerotrain demonstrator took on a barnstorming tour and in addition to the PRR and NYC, the Aerotrain sets are known to have operated on Santa Fe, Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, Chicago & North Western, Great Northern, and the Illinois Central. In early 1956, a third Aerotrain-style LWT12 locomotive was constructed by EMD and purchased by the Rock Island for use with a Talgo-designed train set on RI’s “Jet Rocket” between Chicago and Peoria, Illinois.
Alas, the Aerotrain – like the other lightweights spawned during the 1950s – proved more failure than savior. The ride in the “bus-turned-rail car” coaches was rough and left passengers unimpressed, and the LWT12 proved underpowered for any route involving steep grades. Beyond the two demonstrators and the lone unit ordered by the Rock Island, no additional Aerotrain sets were constructed. The two demonstrators were soon sold to the Rock Island, where they operated in Chicago-Joliet (Illinois) commuter service (and were soon joined by the Rock’s own “Jet Rocket”) until retired in 1966. Nonetheless, the Aerotrain, with its futuristic and unique design, became something of a railroad icon of the 1950s (so much so that Disneyland had a look-alike “Viewliner” miniature edition of the train as a Tomorrowland ride in the late 1950s) and two of the LWT12s and some coaches found their way to U. S. museums.
DTM’s new Aerotrain is a beautiful and authentic re-creation of the diminutive streamliner. Now available at the Dovetail Games and Steam Stores, the DTM pack features the complete Aerotrain (LWT12 locomotive, lightweight coach, and coach-observation) as operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad (and wearing PRR’s famed “Keystone” logo) with a selection of scenarios on the Train Simulator Horseshoe Curve route. And the pack also provides an un-branded standard demonstrator version of the Aerotrain that will be ideal for service on a variety of Train Simulator routes such as the Pacific Surfliner route, Cajon Pass, and the Northeast Corridor! Take an express journey to the 1950s – with the iconic Aerotrain! – Gary Dolzall ■