It's a Jet! It's a Train! It's M-497

Train Travel, Transportation

Train Travel, Transportation

Something out of Buzz Lightyear's imagination, this jet-enhanced train car was tested (successfully) in the summer of 1966. This was the time when rail-road usage declined in America, as the interstate highway system completed its major routes and airlines drew increasing numbers of travelers. New York Central research team, led by Don Wetzel, was assigned a task to collect data on possible high-speed rail service and whether the tracks could handle high-speed passenger traffic.

You can read the account of the jet locomotive's test in this article, or check out a book "Flight of the M-497" by Hank Morris and Don Wetzel

Train Travel, Transportation

Train Travel, Transportation

"Wetzel and his crew adapted two General Electric J-47-19 jet engines, which had been designed as boosters for the Convair B-36 intercontinental bomber. These were mounted just above the engineer’s station at the front of the car. Wetzel’s original design had the jet engines at the rear, but this changed after his wife, making her point with some sketches on a dinner napkin, suggested that the locomotive would look better with them mounted up front. This switch also helped keep the nose of the locomotive on the tracks. The Cleveland shop fashioned a black streamlined cowling for the front of the Budd car, which was designated M-497. Workers called it the Black Beetle."

Train Travel, Transportation

The tests have seen the M-497 flashing by at 183.85 miles per hour, a U.S. rail-speed record that stands to this day.

Train Travel, Transportation

"Jet-powered Budd cars were never seriously considered for practical passenger service, and modern high-speed trains in France, Japan, England, and the United States all use conventional diesel-electric or all-electric motive power.

Wetzel and his team reused the jet engines for another research project, a high-powered snow blower for opening winter track. In tests at the Central’s Buffalo yards, the jet blower efficiently cleared the rails; it also blasted most of the ties and ballast from under them."

Train Travel, Transportation

Images courtesy TrainWeb, NE Rainfan


As it turns out, Russia also entered into the "Jet Train" race, with a similar prototype in 1970:

Train Travel, Transportation

It had engines from a Yak-40 passenger jet plane and could go as fast as 249 km/h (only a little slower than an M-497). It remained only a prototype, possibly because of the conditions of the Russian railroads at the time.

(illustration from 1971 "TM" magazine)

2. This Locomotive Has Fins!

The M-497 was not the only experiment to find a way to draw ridership back to rails back in the 1960s. GM Aerotrain came closer to wide-spread use and is certainly more well-known today.

Train Travel, Transportation
Train Travel, Transportation

In the era of Harvey Earl's dreamy cars with the sweeping lines and fins, this locomotive fits right in.

Train Travel, Transportation
Train Travel, Transportation

"The Aerotrain is a streamlined trainset introduced by General Motors Electro-Motive Division in the mid-1950s. Like all of GM's great body designs of this mid-century era, this futuristic train was first brought to life in Harley Earl's GM Styling Section." (Wikipedia)
Designed along the lines of Buick LeSabre Futurama concept car, this railroad marvel was meant to capture the hearts of Space-age American public. It stayed in service till 1966.

Buick LeSabre:
Train Travel, Transportation
Train Travel, Transportation

The Aerotrain cars, based on GM bus designs and using an air cushioning system, were rough riding and not very comfortable for the passengers. O, but you could lose yourself at the rail-road crossings, staring at the streamlined forms ...

Train Travel, Transportation

The Time magazine article in 1956 noted: "No plush-lined Cadillac of the rails, the Aerotrain was designed more like a stripped-down Chevvy." It even had the rear end design of the Fifties station wagon:

Train Travel, Transportation

and the view of the cabin is very car-like:
Train Travel, Transportation

Train Travel, Transportation

"If we can build a railroad car to sell at half the price of present cars, and be operated at half the price, that's good for the railroads and good for G.M. too."
Such was the idea in 1956, but we all know how it ended.

Train Travel, Transportation

Image Sources: Carofthe Century, NexusBoard

Other High-Speed Train visions:

Pennsylvania Railroad S-1 locomotive, styled by Raymond Loewy. It was shown at the 1939 World's Fair (read more here):

"Sky-Train" (we will cover some high-speed trains in the next part of this article)

The bizarre "radio tube train" from Modern Mechanix:

Vacuum Tube Train ideas were quite popular in the 60s. The following two images are ultra-rare futuristic illustrations from Soviet "TM" magazine, published in 1967:

Here are a few Disney visions and vintage monorails, seen in Disneyland (late 50s versions):

(image credit: plan59)

(image credit: davelandweb)

We don't have much information about this concept. Any info would be appreciated:

"Super High-Speed Trains"

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great pictures... Very interesting.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a wild looking train, must have used lots of fuel.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's wrong the UK also use gas turbines (intercity 125 HST's).

Blogger Rick said...

The Oregon Zoo a train called the Zooliner that is a replica of the Aerotrain.

Blogger Otto Vondrak said...

Great article! A new book has just been released with Don Wetzel's personal first-hand accounts of designing and operating the jet-powered test bed. Check it out!!


Anonymous filfol said...

the last one looks like a Norman Bel Geddes design. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Bel_Geddes

Blogger guinspen said...


Also, "Will atomic energy power tomorrow's railroads?"

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The French also had an "Aérotrain"
You can watch a documentary about it here:

Blogger Unknown said...

Great article, thanks for sharing. Couple of comments; the monorail I remember seeing in a book as a kid back in the '70s and have a suspicion it was at Disney...

As to the anonymous commenter saying about the HST here in the UK being gas-turbine, they could not be more wrong: it is conventional diesel-electric.

They may have confused it with the experimental Advanced Passenger Train (APT-E) which was gas-turbine powered http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Rail_APT-E


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Russia but never heard of russian jet train. I do not know about photo but magazine cover does not look like a fake. Thanks for funny info DM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last picture I believe is from a Boehm Steel advertisement and the design is very similar to that of the Queensland Government Railways 2000 class railmotors introduced in 1956.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, the overhyped hyperloop is just a cheap late ripoff of 1960s' idea from a Soviet popular science magazine Tekhnika Molodezhi? Why it does not surprise me at all...


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