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Amtrak’s UAC TurboTrain, 1971-1976

Amtrak’s UAC TurboTrain, 1971-1976

Fred Klein, 2016

Amtrak purchased several different models of gas turbine, self-powered trainsets in Amtrak’s early years attempting to find an efficient high speed, lightweight train taking advantage of the newer tilting technology. There were two types of turboliners other than the one pictured here. Quoting from the Wikipedia turboliner page, “The Turboliners were a family of gas turbine trainsets built for Amtrak in the 1970s. They were among the first new equipment purchased by Amtrak and represented an attempt by Amtrak to update its fleet with faster, more modern trains. The first batch, known as RTG, were built by the French firm ANF and entered service on multiple routes in the Midwestern United States in 1973. The new trains led to ridership increases wherever they were used; the fixed consist proved a detriment as demand outstripped supply. The high cost of operating the trains led to their withdrawal from the Midwest in 1981. The second batch, known as RTL, were of a similar design but manufactured by Rohr Industries, an American company. These entered service on the Empire Corridor in the state of New York in 1976. The RTLs remained in service there through the 1990s, supplemented by several rebuilt RTGs. In the late 1990s and early 2000s New York and Amtrak partnered to rebuild the RTLs for high-speed service; this project failed and the last RTL trainsets left revenue service in 2003. After the settlement of legal issues New York sold the remaining trainsets for scrap in 2012.”


This page is about the United Aircraft Corporation turbotrain. It was a second-generation Talgo design where the cars tilted into curves to improve passenger comfort rounding curves at high speed. United Aircraft (UAC) purchased the C&O patents for tilting car design to enter into the DOT's (Department of Transportation) Northeast Corridor Demonstration Project. The pods at each end had a control room, an observation area and a turbine engine. Single axle bogies between each car were attached to a complex tilting mechanism where the amount of tilt depended on the speed. Two turbotrains were built at the Pullman works in Chicago in 1967, DOT contracted with Penn Central to test them on the northeast corridor, and eight were eventually produced. Canadian National Railways ordered 7 turbo trainsets. The three-car sets (plus the two end-pods) carried 144 people and operated up to 100 mph. They had third rail shoes permitting operation into Grand Central Terminal and the overhead wires were never used. Amtrak took over the service from the bankrupt Penn Central. The Amtrak TurboTrains stopped in 1976 and were never sold to Canada or another railroad because of their poor mechanical condition.


The UAC TurboTrains saw service mostly in the east but near Chicago too. As far I know they were not assigned to a particular train name.


The TurboTrains were initially painted in their original United Aircraft colors during their testing. Amtrak eventually painted them in two mostly white phase I color schemes featuring the single arrow design. This repainting must have happened in mid 1971 after Amtrak’s formation on May 1, 1971. Bachmann produced a poor quality turbotrain N scale set in the early 1970s and painted it the original UAC colors. As far I know, few of these N scale sets were produced or few have survived, and I have never seen any in the later Amtrak colors. I added simple Amtrak lettering to my model even though I have not seen a photograph of this.



A pre-Amtrak Turboliner at South Boston station in Septermber 1970. From the clean looks the train can’t have been in service for very long.


An Amtrak Turboliner Southbound into New York City. Photo by Andrew Konigsberg, RailPictures Archives.


Box art from the Bachmann UAR TurboTrain set made in the early 1970s.


An Amtrak UAC TurboTrain arriving at Ann Arbor Michigan in September 1971. This may have been the earlier of the two Amtrak paint schemes.  Wikipedia photo by Lawrence Barera.


An expanded (5 car) TurboTrain in a different phase I paint scheme near Washington DC in 1978. The TurboTrains had different Amtrak paint schemes through their service lives. Bob Redden photo from the Amtrak photo archive.



An N-scale UAC TurboTrain train of 5 cars


The factory-painted Bachmann model of the UAC TurboTrain is in the original United Aircraft Corporation color scheme. I added simple Amtrak lettering though the prototype train may not have it before being completely repainted. The lead unit is powered and single-axle trucks support each end of the cars. The train runs, but like other Bachmann trains from the early 1970s, is not very smooth or of good quality.






Warner, David and Elbert Simon, Amtrak by the numbers, A comprehensive passenger car and motive power roster 1971-2011, White River Productions, 2011.