Good Idea Derailed: GM Aerotrain

GM Aerotrain

When most of us think of General Motors, automobiles are what come to mind, but the manufacturing giant has actually built more than just cars. During the 1940’s, they were a major player in the locomotive market. Prior to the ’50s, traveling by train was your best option if you wanted to travel across the country quickly and affordably. As America’s roadways and automotive technology improved, the demand for passenger trains greatly decreased. In a last bold effort to keep the train relevant, GM designed and built the beautiful Aerotrain that you see here! Sadly, the Aerotrain failed to revive the dying industry. Thankfully, someone had the insight to save this beautiful piece of history!

GM Aerotrain Ad

GM actually built two Aerotrains and both survive today. One is on display in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the other is in St. Louis, Missouri. The one you see here is currently parked at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, where you can still see it up close in person!

GM Aerotrain Nose

The Aerotrain really was a great idea, but it was too late and had too many flaws to save the train industry. GM had big dreams for these trains, they were capable of sustained 100 mph speeds and looked incredible. Sadly, they lacked the power to get up steep hills easily and the lightweight cars rode too roughly for most passengers.

GM Aerotrain Cab

If you’d like to know more about the Aerotrain, you can read more about these amazing trains here on BoldRide. And if you happen to be traveling through St. Louis or live near by, you may want to stop by the Museum of Transportation to see this piece of history for yourself!

Photos Courtesy of Myles Kornblatt

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. Dairymen

    Yeah you’ll be the talk of the town to show up at your local coffee & cars meet Saturday morning. Or even better; plow up the 18th hole at rebble beach!

  2. JW

    Wow had no idea this museum and train existed so close to me. Next time I’m over on the other side of the state visiting family I’ll have to stop and check this museum out.

    Like 1
    • Josh Staff

      I highly recommend checking it out JW!

    • Howard A Member

      Hi JW, the Green Bay rail museum is on S. Broadway, like 2 blocks east of Ashland Ave. ( Hy. 32, which parallels Hy. 41 on the S. side) I’ve been by it like a million times. ( I was a truck driver for 35 years, and went to GB a lot, even worked in GB) I believe you can see this engine from the street, unless they moved it. For years, it sat in the same place. Of all the times I’ve been past there, I never had a chance to go in.( usually it was at 4am) I too always thought, this was a train with a big 50’s car roof on it. I love old trains, and you want some real history, look up the “Hiawatha”. It was a steam locomotive from the 30’s with 8 foot tall drive wheels and Art Deco styling. I’d include a link, but that f’s up my comment now. ( specifically the Twin Cities 400. It would go from Chicago to Minneapolis in 400 minutes, with stops. It would routinely exceed speeds of 100 mph. People would line the tracks to catch a glimpse of it as it rushed by. All the engines were cut up for scrap, and none remain)

      Like 1
      • JW

        Thanks Howard, I’ll look that up.

    • D. King

      Before they tore up the road some 20 or 30 years ago (Old Dougherty Ferry Rd), it was my daily path to work. That used to be a wonderful tiny two-lane with no houses. Now I look at the area and can’t recognize a thing–houses ALL over, except the intersection where the museum is. The museum has grown a tad, too. I think it was just a couple of steam locomotives back in the ’70s, too. We visited a couple of years ago and were quite impressed. Definitely worth a look.

  3. Bill

    I like the wrap around windshield we saw on later model cars. This thing is beyond cool!

    • JW454

      Bill, I agree. The windshield and roof line are reminiscent of the 1958 model year offerings for some of the GM models.

  4. Goodguytim

    The Portland (Oregon) Zoo must have liked it too, they have a scale version that obviously is patterned after the GM train. I couldn’t get the pic to load but it’s easily googled. It’s still in use – we rode it this last season’s Zoolights :-)

    Like 1
    • grant

      I’ve ridden that train more times than I can count. Was always my favorite part of the zoo as a kid.

      Like 2
    • Tom S.

      Zooliner!

      Like 3
  5. Van

    GM worked hard to destroy public transportation. Paying to remove trolley tracks a push bus lines out.
    I’m not sure this venture was supposed to be a success?

  6. Ed P

    GM’s Electro Motive Division dominated the diesel locomotive market from the late 1930’s until the 1980’s when they were outsold by GE locomotives. EMD was spun off by GM in 2005 and is now owned by a subsidiary of Caterpillar.

    • van

      yes as you say Electro motive, but those were freight building days.
      GM has often made odd choices. Oldsmobile was the oldest name in the company and Pontiac still built cool cars, but they went away.
      My Ho trains had some EMD locomotives.

      Like 1
      • Ed P

        I had an 1998 Olds Intrigue. I really miss that car. I wish I could buy a new one.
        EMD suffered from the same malaise as GM’s auto operations. They assumed they would be the king for much to long.

  7. Puhnto

    My dad worked for the State of California out in San Bernardino County. I was out doing the rounds with him one summer while school was out — I’m thinking 1956 or 57 — way out in the desert behind Edwards Air Force Base. The people he was checking on lived right next to a railroad crossing. It was the only building anywhere out ther. He left me in the car while he went in to talk to these folks for a few minutes and while he was in there one of these beautiful trains went past the crossing very, very slowly. I was beside myself with excitement because I’d only seen photos of them, but there I was, all by myself, no-one to share it with and no camera! Never saw one again but never forgot that one. (We used to see a lot of “interesting” things way out on the backside of Edwards.)

    Like 1
  8. jim s

    been interested in trains since i was a child but never seen either one of these. i just put it on my to do/see list. great find.

  9. Thomas Allen

    I say scrap the chassis and place body on a 18 wheeler chassis!

  10. junrai

    FREAKIN AWESOME too bad it isnt around today I would be glad to pay to ride that

  11. josh h

    From a booklet I have about styling at GM circa 1956.

    • josh h

      Image upload didn’t work.

  12. scot carr

    ~ When I first moved to St Louis years ago my truss shop and offices were next door to the Museum of Transportation on Barrett Station Road in Kirkwood. It’s a fascinating place with lots of great exhibits. A number of car shows are held on the grounds throughout the year. This is not to be missed and you’ll also get to see one of the last remaining Chrysler turbine cars, Bobby Darin’s DiDia, and many interesting examples of early transport history.

    • JW

      Scot thanks for that information, I’ll have to check this out and maybe take the Mustang over for a car show and check out the Museum at the same time.

      • scot carr

        ~ You won’t be disappointed, JW. I’m not sure about this years schedule but I recall at least one all Ford show last year, and Father’s Day is another great event.

  13. Michael Dawson

    Progress Rail Services, wholly owned by Caterpillar, opened a production facility (about 6 years ago) in my home town of Muncie, Ind., in the former Westinghouse/ABB Large Transformer plant. They build and ship locomotives worldwide.

  14. Little_Cars Alexander Member

    Uh. Barn Find? I was okay with my daily feed of cars from around the country and overseas. Not sure why we are getting Flintstonemobile, motorcycles and planes? …used to be a joy to open and scan the listings for hidden gems. Now one has to scroll through things just because they have wheels to get to the good stuff. 🤔

    • zero250 jeff steindler

      Count me IN on the diversity that is evolving……..a TRUE car-guy has various interests in cars-trucks-airplanes-trains-construction equipment……..or maybe, just because my mini cooper came after 2 dirt bikes ( by age 17 ) – all 3 of which made me an engineer with an interest in all……

      • D. King

        I agree, Jeff–I love the variety! Besides, “good stuff” for one person isn’t necessarily “good stuff” for another.

        Greetings from a fellow MINIac!

      • Ed P

        I agree also, Jeff. The Flintstonemobile provides a bit of levity to this forum. I like the diversity.

  15. Brad

    I have my dad’s toy {made of rubber} of the train annd I live in Green Bay now.Time to go see it .

  16. Rick

    I remember my Dad ( who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad) taking the family to Pittsburgh to see one of these. We toured the train, inside and out.

  17. Paul Regna

    i think using car parts, was part of the original concept. GM helped develop the 2cycle diesel and hooking them to DC generators for control. It was good bye steam. Maintenance was the killer, look in side at all those tubes in a boiler. I’m not sure, but I think these aerotrains were to light.

  18. Ed P

    Paul, there were many attempts to build lightweight trains in this era of railroading. Most, if not all were condemned for poor riding ability. Also, flexibility in assignment of equipment was a problem. If any car on the train had a problem, the whole train was sidelined as articulated trains do not lend themselves to use with anything else.

  19. Paul Regna

    And apparently railroads only like massive loads, they were never thrilled about passengers. When the government pulled the mail that was it.

    • Ed P

      The railroads like freight because that is where the money is. When Penn Central went broke it collected $2 for each $1 spent hauling freight. Passenger trains cost $3 for each dollar of revenue.

  20. Edward Reiber

    I remember seeing the Aerotrain in Philadelphia back in the 50’s . It was impressive.

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