The Aerotrain

In the late 50s, EMD rolled out the sleek LWT12 locomotives to head up the Aerotrain. The LWT12 featured a radical-looking carbody that was actually fabricated by GM’s GMC Truck & Coach division and featured many earmarks of automotive styling, right down to wing windows and a cab that looked like it could have been cut from a 50s Pontiac and welded onto a locomotive.

Aerotrain "Aerotrain 1950's stylin'" by Nate Beal - originally posted to Flickr as 1950's stylin'. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aerotrain_1950%27s_stylin%27.jpg

The Aerotrain was a semi-permanent trainset that also featured bodies from GMC Truck & Coach, widened about 18” to fit. Together with the locomotives, the Aerotrain was designed for low operating costs and ease of maintenance, as many parts were shared with buses. Soon, the Aerotrain was in service with the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Santa Fe and the Union Pacific.

Unfortunately, the futuristic train never lived up to its promise.

The Aerotrain’s cars used an innovative air suspension, but rode poorly on most tracks and were uncomfortable. The entire trainset had to be turned around after each trip on the Santa Fe’s San Diegan run, and the LWT12s were underpowered enough to require helper locomotives to make it over the Sorrento Grade north of San Diego.

Under the space-age skin of the LWT12 was some pretty ordinary running gear – an EMD 567C 16-cylinder prime mover that generated 1200 horsepower and was good for 83 mph. In other words, it was not much more than a plain vanilla SW1200 switcher that was re-geared for passenger service and fitted with a sexy carbody. Worse, the design of the body made even routine maintenance on the locomotives very difficult.

The Aerotrain and LWT12 came along at a time when passenger train travel was already on the wane, and the system just failed to ignite the interest of the traveling public. By 1966, the Aerotrain was over, and all the remaining trains were pulled from service. Today, two of the original three LWT12s are housed in railroad museums.