Trains have gone through an evolutionary process in which the better designs have succeeded while the less useful ones have faded into obscurity. Yet many of the most unusual trains had features that made them so unique that some people might be surprised that they are no longer in use today.
10. M-497 ‘Black Beetle’
Built in the 1960s, the M-497 (aka the “Black Beetle”) was an experimental train powered by jet engines. Its construction was sponsored by New York Central Railroad, which wanted to make fast trains to lure back commuters who had abandoned its slower trains for other means of transportation.
The Black Beetle was a regular passenger train that was modified to run on jet engines from a B-36 bomber. It underwent a series of tests, ultimately reaching a record speed of 295 kilometers per hours (185 mph). This world record remained unbroken for 40 years.
However, the New York Central Railroad stopped development of the vehicle because jet-powered trains were too expensive to build and maintain. The carriage was returned to service, and the jet engines were used to make the world’s first snowplow for railroad tracks.
The Schienenzeppelin was a 1931 German attempt to build a super-fast train. The experimental train was powered by an airplane engine connected to a huge propeller in the back. Streamlined and lightweight, this train reached a record speed of 225 kilometers per hour (140 mph) during tests. This record remained unbroken for 23 years.
The Schienenzeppelin never went past the prototype stage because of fears that its propellers could seriously injure or even kill people who stood close to the tracks at train stations. The position of the propellers prevented the train from reversing direction, pulling other coaches, or maintaining the momentum to climb hills.
There were also doubts as to whether the railroad tracks of the day could cope with the stress of this train. The Schienenzeppelin was destroyed during World War II when Germany stripped its aluminum to build airplanes.
8. Bennie Railplane
The Bennie Railplane was invented by George Bennie in 1930. To replace coal-powered steam engines, the train ran on special tracks that Bennie planned to build above regular railroad tracks. The train looked similar to more modern cable cars except for its two propellers that were powered by an engine. Wheels on top of the train allowed it to move along its overhead tracks.
Bennie claimed that the railplane could reach speeds of up to 190 kilometers per hour (120 mph). However, its experimental track was too short to attain such a high speed.
Bennie couldn’t find investors for his train because people were recovering from the Great Depression and World War II was just around the corner. In 1957, Bennie sold his experimental rail track at a fire-sale price. Bankrupt, he died one year later.