Fred Klein, 2010, 2016
General Motors built an experimental ultra lightweight, fixed-consist train based on its intercity bus technology. GM intended Aerotrains to compete with cars and busses. The train cars were shorter and lighter than a normal railroad coach car, and rode on 2-wheel trucks that were air-suspended. The styling was inspired by 1950s automobiles with curved, smooth hoods and tail fins, hence the name Aerotrain. Two Aerotrain demonstration trains were built in 1956 and tested by the Santa Fe, Pennsylvania, New York Central and Union Pacific railroads. The cars had aluminum bodies with red-painted window bands that were not repainted by each railroad. The railroads only added their train names and heralds. The trains were rough-riding, difficult to integrate into railroad operations, difficult to turn at terminals, underpowered, and ultimately only sold to the Rock Island who used it in Chicago computer service. They were completely retired in 1966. One is preserved at the St. Louis museum of transportation.
UP had a need for a dedicated train for its Los Angeles to Las Vegas passengers who could not fit on other city trains that passed through Las Vegas. It leased an Aerotrain and put it into service for 9 months. It was popular with riders, partly because it offered a free buffet meal and bar service. The Aerotrain, among other inconveniences, was underpowered and required a GP7 helper locomotive over Cajon Pass. UP gave up its lease on the Aerotrain and replaced it with a conventional train in September 1957 (see the page on that train).
The City of Las Vegas left Los Angeles in the morning and made one round-trip each day. There was a 60-minute layover in Las Vegas during which the train was turned, cleaned and re-stocked with booze for gamblers who either celebrated or consoled themselves, depending on their gambling success.
The aerotrain as the City of Las Vegas in December 1956. Dick Rumholz photo.
The aerotrain is pictured on Pensylvania Railroad rails before any railroad heralds were applied to it. From page 169, The American Streamliner: Postwar Years, Donald Heimberger and Carl Byron, Heimberger House Publishing, 2001.
The aerorain on Pennsylvania’s horseshoe curve in 1957 when it was on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s rails.
The train had 9 cars behind the locomotive unit. There were 4 coaches (a 36-seat and three 40-seat), a “chuck wagon” buffet car, a bar-lounge car, and two more 40-seat coaches. The last car had fancy fins, and a round tail sign in the rear window. Con cor made a model of this train in 2008, offering each of the railroads that used it. You can run this train right out of the box with either 3, 6 or 9 coaches after the power unit. The Con cor train is fully lighted and even has an engineer.
The Aerotrain power unit screams 1950s automotive styling.
The 9-car GM Aerotrain dressed as Union Pacific’s City of as Vegas.
Asay, Jeff, The City of Las Vegas, The Streamliner, summer 2010.
Ranks, Harold E. and William W. Kratville, The Union Pacific Streamliners, Kratville publications, 1974.