The Jet Rocket

In February, 1956, just a month after the Aerotrain made its first revenue run, the Rock Island Railroad placed the redundantly named Jet Rocket in service between Chicago and Peoria. The train consisted of cars built by ACF combined with a LWT-12 locomotive that was a near duplicate of the Aerotrain engines (but which, because of coupler differences, was incompatible with the Aerotrains).

At first glance, the Jet Rocket is not much different from an Aerotrain. Click image for a larger view.

Despite the similar locomotives, the Jet Rocket was easily distinguished from the Aerotrain by the car windows, which were slanted forward on the Aerotrain but rectangular on the Jet Rocket. Wikipedia implies that the Talgo-type cars on the Jet Rocket were the same as those built by ACF in 1949. In fact, they differed in several major ways.

The locomotive shown in a September, 1954 Popular Science article only faintly resembles the LWT-12 locomotive that was ultimately used on the Jet Rocket. The article also incorrectly pictured the 1949 ACF Talgo train as representative of what the Jet Rocket would look like. Click image to download a PDF of the two-page article.

First, instead of the entire train being articulated, the Jet Rocket cars were articulated in sets of three. The train consisted of four such sets, any of which could easily be removed from the train. This configuration was also easier to back up than the original ACF Talgo train, which tended to derail in reverse.

The last car of the Jet Rocket looked more like the blunt-end observation cars of the Union Pacific City trains or the Denver Zephyr than the 1949 ACF Talgo train.

A second difference was that the 1949 train’s bulbous tail car, with its large rear windows, was replaced by a squared-off car with no rear-facing windows. This tail car looked more like the Talgo III tail cars that the Spanish company began producing in 1964. Of course, to fit alongside American platforms, the Jet Rocket‘s cars were also four inches narrower than the cars built for the Spanish market.

By the time this ad appeared in the November 12, 1956 issue of Railway Age, Rock Island was already getting disillusioned about the Talgo train. Click image for a larger view.

Despite the fact that the Spanish railroad was happy with the Talgo trains, the Jet Rocket didn’t fare much better in the United States than the Aerotrain. Rock Island kept it in service on the Peoria run for less than two years before replacing it with a conventional train. Like the Aerotrains, the Jet Rocket was relegated to Chicago-Joliet commuter service for a few years, then scrapped.

Steve Longmire was invited to tour the Jet Rocket in February, 1956 before it made its first run and took this photo of the interior along with several other photos of the train.

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