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Aerotrain (GM)

This article is about the passenger train consist built by General Motors Electro-Motive Division.

The Aerotrain was 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 GM's Styling Section. Chuck Jordan was in charge of designing the Aero Train as Chief Designer of Special Projects. It utilized the experimental EMD LWT12 locomotive coupled to a set of modified GM Truck & Coach Division 40-seat intercity bus coach bodies (). The cars each rode on two axles with an airbag suspension system, which was intended to give a smooth ride but had the opposite effect.


The two Aerotrain demonstrator sets logged over and saw service on the following railroads:

In 1956 Aerotrain No. 2 was leased as a demonstrator to the New York Central, and operated between Cleveland and Chicago. It was also in 1956 when for nine months, the Pennsylvania Railroad operated the Pennsy Aerotrain between New York City and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Railroad's schedule was timed so that westbound passengers traversed Horseshoe Curve at lunch time while eastbound passengers traversed the curve at dinner time. In the summer of 1957 it was operated by the Union Pacific as the City of Las Vegas, running between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The train eventually found itself in Chicago commuter service on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.

GM's "lightweight with a heavyweight future" was introduced at a time when U.S. passenger train revenues were steadily declining due to competition from airlines and private automobile travel. Although it featured an eye-catching, streamlined design, the Aerotrain failed to capture the imagination of the American public. The cars, based on GM bus designs and using an air cushioning system, were rough riding and not very comfortable for the passengers. The design of the locomotive section rendered even routine maintenance extremely difficult and time-consuming. The locomotive unit was underpowered. Eventually, both trainsets were retired after only a decade's use in 1966. Today, Aerotrain No. 1 is on permanent display at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, Missouri, while No. 2 resides at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin. A third non-demonstrator unit in Rock Island paint resides at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois.

Disneyland operated 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 patrons along the railroad.

Other uses of the name Aerotrain

The Viewliner

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 along 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 into 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 ultimately took the place of the Viewliner in June of the following year.

The Zooliner

The Zooliner is a scale replica of Aerotrain, one of the three trains on the Washington Park and Zoo Railway in Portland, Oregon. Zooliner was placed in service in 1958. On June 14, 2008 the Oregon Zoo held a "50th Birthday" celebration for the locomotive and remains the primary train for the zoo.


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