If things had turned out a little differently, today we might be using hovertrains, and any of a number of other transportation ideas that almost took off, as part of our daily commute.
Instead, most of these trains today are confined to museums or train graveyards. Engineer and New Yorker writer Nick Arvin recently posted a Twitter thread of impressive images of a fleet of obsolete and abandoned hovertrains.
The rail revolution that never took place
As Arvin points out in his original Twitter post on October 17, his images show "a selection of 1970s era experimental hovertrains designed to go up to 300 mph (482 km/h), now sitting abandoned along a random side street in Pueblo, Colorado."
Oh, that? Just a selection of 1970s era experimental hovertrains designed to go up to 300 mph, now sitting abandoned along a random side street in Pueblo, Colorado. pic.twitter.com/2nuNVqlxkF— Nick Arvin (@NickArvin) October 17, 2020
Hovertrains could reach these impressive speeds with increased efficiency thanks to lifting pads that feed high-pressure air, greatly reducing track friction.
However, perhaps the main barrier to a hover rail revolution ever taking place was simply the enormous infrastructure that would have to be replaced worldwide, with conventional tracks needing to be upgraded or replaced completely.
The downfall of the hovertrain and aerotrain — which were tested in France, the US, and the Soviet Union in the 60s and 70s — can also be attributed to mismanagement by corporations building the machines, as well as safety concerns brought on by immense speeds and instability due to jet engines strapped to several prototypes.
The hovertrain that came closest to becoming a real proposition was France's Aérotrain, developed by Lead Engineer Jean Bertin. Though the Aérotrain showed great promise, and was in development for over a decade (starting in 1965), it ultimately lost out to efforts to simply improve "wheeled" railway systems.
A fleet of 'abandoned' hovertrains
Nick Arvin's images on Twitter show the remnants of a similar legacy in the U.S. Included in the fleet of "abandoned" trains are the Rohr Industries Aerotrain, the Grumman Tracked Levitated Research Vehicle (TLRV), and the Garrett AiResearch Linear Induction Motor Research Vehicle (LIMRV).
Much like France's Aerotrain, and Russia's turbo jet train, several prototypes were developed of the TLRV. As Topwar writes, the project was developed with the active participation of the US Department of Transportation.
The main experimental Grumman TLRV airliner, built in 1972, could reach speeds of up to 300 miles per hour (482 km/h) and carry cargo weighing about 10-15 thousand pounds (4-8 tons). Impressively, it could accelerate from zero to 270 miles per hour in three minutes.
The greatest shortcoming that the TLRV showed in testing was that it had to slow down to 90 mph (144 km/h) to take corners safely.
Garrett AiResearch's LIMRV was a wheeled vehicle that ran on standard-gauge railroad track.
After having two Pratt & Whitney J52 jet engines attached to it in testing, the LIMRV achieved a world record speed of 255.7 mph (411.5 km/h), on August 14, 1974, for vehicles on a conventional rail.
As Arvin points out in his Twitter thread, "these are not great pictures because the trains are behind chainlink fence with barbwire and a sign that says BEWARE OF DOG. They seem to be on the property of someone's welding shop? Or body shop?"
Another tweeter replied that these trains are in fact owned by the Pueblo Railway Foundation. Here's hoping the city of Pueblo, Colorado, opens a museum to these retro-futuristic machines that were so close to revolutionizing railways worldwide.