The Aerotrain was a streamlined trainset introduced by General Motors Electro-Motive Division in the mid-1950s. Like all of GM's body designs of this mid-century era, this train was first brought to life in GM's Styling Section. Chuck Jordan was in charge of designing the Aerotrain as Chief Designer of Special Projects. It utilized the experimental EMD LWT12 locomotive (U.S. Patent D177,814), coupled to a set of modified GM Truck & Coach Division 40-seat intercity highway bus bodies (U.S. Patent D179,006). The cars each rode on two axles with an air suspension system, which was intended to give a smooth ride, but had the opposite effect.
The two Aerotrain demonstrator sets logged over 600,000 miles (970,000 km) and saw service on:
Starting in February 1956 the Pennsylvania Railroad ran the Pennsy Aerotrain between New York City and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, leaving New York at 7:55 a.m.; the schedule was 7 hours 30 minutes each way. From June 1956 to June 1957 it ran between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
In 1956 Aerotrain No. 2 was leased as a demonstrator to the New York Central and ran between Cleveland and Chicago.
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 and San Diego. Its use ended because the trainset had to be turned after each trip and it needed helper locomotives on the Sorrento Grade north of San Diego.
Starting December 1956 Union Pacific ran the ex-New York Central Aerotrain as the City of Las Vegas between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The train was eventually relegated to Chicago commuter service on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.
GM's "lightweight with a heavyweight future" was introduced at a time when passenger train revenues were declining due to competition from airlines and private automobiles. Though it featured a streamlined design, the Aerotrain failed to capture the public's imagination. The cars, based on GM's bus designs and using an air cushioning system, were rough riding and uncomfortable. The design of the locomotive section made routine maintenance difficult and it was underpowered. Both trainsets were retired in 1966 after a decade of use. The Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, Missouri, and the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin, each have one of the locomotives and two of the cars.
Disneyland had 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 visitors. Idlewild Park in Reno, Nevada, also has a train ride fashioned after the Aerotrain's locomotive.
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 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 in 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 took the place of the Viewliner in June of the following year.
The Zooliner, one of three trains on the Washington Park and Zoo Railway in Portland, Oregon, is a scale replica of Aerotrain. The Zooliner entered service in 1958. On June 14, 2008, the Oregon Zoo held a "50th Birthday" celebration for the locomotive and it remains the primary train for the zoo.
The EMD LWT12 was an experimental diesel locomotive built by General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) between 1956 and 1958, and designed to pull light high-speed passenger trains. Power was provided by an EMD 567C 12-cylinder engine which produced 1,200 hp (890 kW). The LWT12 was essentially an EMD SW1200 switcher locomotive, suitably geared for high-speed passenger rail service and wrapped in a distinctive aerodynamic shell.
Originally, the EMD LWT12 was intended to be part of an inseparable set along with ten specially designed high-speed, low-cost, 40-foot (12.19 m) passenger cars. These cars were built from bus bodies sourced from GM's GMC division which were then widened by 18 inches (457 mm), had their front and rear modified and were attached to a generic undercarriage. The advantages of this design were that instead of refurbishing the whole carriage, the body mounted on the undercarriage would be scrapped in whole and a complete new modified bus body would be installed in its place with all of the different technical advances that had been developed, essentially resulting in a completely new car for a fraction of the cost. Also, all parts used by these carriages were sourced internally by GM and were also used in other products. All of this meant that initial outlay, as well as maintenance costs, were significantly lower than traditional passenger cars resulting in a situation where railroad companies could offer rail fares similar to bus fares of the time. This design, as well as the EMD LWT12 were the cover feature article of the September 1955 Popular Mechanics magazine. Two of these whole trainsets are known to have been built for the purpose of being driven across the United States for public viewing. Eventually, these trains became the Aerotrain.
Only three LWT12 units were built. First one, EMD serial number 20826, entered service with the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad to pull the "Talgo Jet Rocket" train between Chicago and Peoria. Second and third units, EMD serial numbers 21463 and 21464, became integrated in the Aerotrain. Two of the three LWT12 locomotives are now in the care of museums.