Trains, after all, just take what excite us about cars—complex, mechanical things steeped in performance, technology, and luxury. Interest in one should translate into at least a mild enthusiasm for the other.
Franz Kruckenberg's Schienenzeppelin.
Wrapped in a streamlined aluminum body and pushed along by a gigantic propeller, Franz Kruckenberg's Schienenzeppelin (or rail zeppelin) was an early attempt at high-speed rail combining both locomotive and passenger cabin that, for obvious reasons, didn't get very far. Though it achieved 230km/hin June 1931, setting a railed vehicle record that wasn't surpassed for 23 years, insurmountable design flaws prevented the Schienenzeppelin from maturing past the prototype stage.
Powered by a 12-cylinder BMW aircraft engine that ran on conventional gas, it struggled to climb hills, pull train cars, and most importantly, it was a danger to any pedestrians during operation. Hitting a developmental dead end in 1934, Kruckenberg sold the prototype to the Deutsche Reichsbahn, which took the machine apart in 1939 for war materials.
Deutsches Bundesbahn Schi-Stra-Bus.
Built in postwar Germany, the Schi-Stra-Bus (whose name translates as rail-street-bus) was a hi-rail-style vehicle designed to travel on both the autobahn and existing rail infrastructure. Powered by a 118-horsepower Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz diesel, the Schi-Stra-Bus could propel 77 passengers up to 80km/h on the road, or after being lowered onto standalone rail trucks, 120km/h on a rail track.
Union Pacific Big Boy.
If one locomotive deserves to symbolize the might of mid-century American rail, it's the Union Pacific Big Boy. It was designed to solo-haul 3,600-ton loads, an unknown ALCO employee is said to put "Big Boy" on the front.
And it's a right name for a locomotive that, its tender included, weighs in at 567 tonnes, or more than three Boeing 747-400s, making it the heaviest steam locomotive ever operated. Even more impressive is that these leviathans were designed to operate at a sustained speed of 96km/h.
United Aircraft Corporation TurboTrain.
The TurboTrain demonstrated in December 1967, when it reached 248km/h, setting a record for a fuel-mechanical-driven train that stands to this day.
But during a press demo run in 1968, a collision with a truck proved threat to the TurboTrain's service life, which it began the following year. The crash and poor crossing infrastructure in rural Canada limited regular service top speed to 153km/h.
Over time, accidents claimed multiple trainsets, and between poor reliability, complex maintenance, and loud, uncomfortable operation, the TurboTrain proved unpopular with railroads.After 1982, the TurboTrain was replaced by then conven-tional diesel-electrics.
Japan Rail Central L0 Series.
Currently in development in Japan is a maglev called the L0 series which, on April 21, 2015, carried 49 JR Central employees to 603km/h, cracking the record for the fastest manned maglev in the world. Designed to ferry passengers at a more cautious, yet still blistering 305km/h, the L0 is intended to operate automatically with no engineers aboard, though there are cameras for emergency remote operation.
Despite a 3-month development freeze due to COVID-19, an updated prototype entered trials in August, 2020 reaching 550km/h, and making the program's passenger service entry target in 2027.