Popular Science Rides the Hi-Level Santa Fe Cars

There is an intriguing pattern in the seven trains introduced in 1956. Four were outright failures, being pulled from service after less than two years and, at best, run as lowly commuter trains. One, the Santa Fe hi-level, was a great success in the sense that it led to repeat orders from Santa Fe and eventually inspired the Amtrak Superliners. Two more were partial successes in that they continued to serve for at least a decade after their 1956 introduction.

This advertisement features Budd’s three entries into the 1956 “new trains” competition, all of which were successful relative to the Pullman, ACF, and General Motors entries. Click image for a much larger (4.3-MB) view.

All of the failures were articulated; the successes were not. The failures used two-wheel trucks, and approached just one axle per car; the successes used two four-wheel trucks per car. Most notably, all three successful trains were built by Budd.

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The Roger Williams

The last of Patrick McGinnis’ three trains was the Roger Williams, which entered service between Boston and Washington on April 28, 1957. Budd built the train by modifying its RDCs into a six-car train that had controls only in the first and last cars.

It seems to be easier to find photos of the Roger Williams as it lasted longer in service on the New Haven. This photo was taken, probably in 1957 or 1958, at the New Haven, Connecticut train station. Click image for a larger view.

The first and last cars also had a faring to make them appear streamlined. As a concession to the fad for trains with a low center of gravity, Budd lowered the floor of the Roger Williams by seven inches below that of a standard RDC. To allow the trains to reach 110 mph, each car had two 300-hp engines instead of the 275-hp engines that came in other RDCs.

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Dan’l Webster and the Xplorer

Patrick McGinnis’ second new train for the New Haven was built by Pullman in an obvious imitation of the 1949 ACF Talgo train. Pullman called its design “Train X” and like the 1949 train had just one axle, or two wheels, on most of the cars. Only the center car had two axles so that the end cars could each have an axle on the end of the train. Train X cars also used a passive tilt system so that passengers could experience a more comfortable ride going around corners.

This publicity photo of the New York Central’s Xplorer was taken by company photographer Ed Nowak. Click image for a somewhat larger view.

The train was pulled by two 1,000-hp locomotives, one on each end, built by Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton, the company the resulted from the merger of what had once been two of the largest steam locomotive builders in the world. These may have been the last locomotives Baldwin built; the company continued to make parts but went out of business about a decade later.

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The John Quincy Adams and Speed Merchant

In 1954, a flamboyant executive named Patrick McGinnis won control of the New Haven Railroad in a proxy battle. He promised improved passenger service, but he gave also large pay increases to his executive staff; hired his wife, Lucille, to help design new trains; saved money by deferring maintenance on the railroad; and ended up in jail for cheating railroad investors.

The Diesels in each Fairbanks-Morse P-12-42 locomotive generated 1,600 horsepower, but 400 of them were used provide lights and other power for the train, so they were rated at 1,200 hp. The New Haven purchased two such locomotives to push/pull the John Quincy Adams between New York and Boston.

Before that happened, however, he spent $5 million on three new trains aimed at keeping his promise of improving passenger service in the Boston-New York corridor. All three trains were delivered in late 1956 and began service in late 1956 or early 1957–I haven’t been able to find exact dates. One of the trains, the John Quincy Adams, was an ACF Talgo train powered by Fairbanks-Morse locomotives.

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The Keystone Tubular Train

On June 24, 1956, the Pennsylvania Railroad inaugurated the Keystone, a twice-daily Washington-New York train that used a new design of coaches built by Budd. The floors at the ends of the cars were of normal height so that doorways matched the platforms that existed at every station along the route. But in keeping with the Talgo low-floor philosophy, the centers of the cars were lowered, reducing the car’s center of gravity.

This brochure describes the supposed advantages of a train with a lower center of gravity. There is no date but the brochure was printed well before the cars were completed. The actual cars did not have a red stripe, and the word “Pennsylvania” was in raised letters at the same height as the end windows. The cars were numbers in the 9600s and the numbers, in raised letters, appeared on the ends of the cars at the same height as the railroad name. Click image to download a 1.5-MB PDF of this four-page brochure.

The lower center of gravity supposedly allowed the train to take curves at higher speeds without worries the cars would tip over. For some reason, Budd and Pennsylvania called this a “tubular train,” as if all normal steel passenger cars were not, in some sense, tubes.

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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.

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The Aerotrain

The year 1956 was the most momentous in the history of passenger trains since the original Zephyr and M-10000 were introduced in 1933. Not two, not three, but a total of five new kinds of trains were introduced to the American public in 1956, with two more in early 1957. The first and most famous of these was the General Motors Aerotrain.


Click image to download a 3.3-MB PDF of this brochure.

With five new trains (seven including the two in early 1957), 1956 could have been even more momentous than 1933, except for the fact that four of the seven trains were such miserable failures that they remained in service for less than two years. Two others were only partial successes: one operated for about a decade, while the other stayed in service, but in heavily modified form, for more than two decades.

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ACF’s 1949 Talgo Train

Remember when the United States was such an industrial powerhouse that corporations in other countries outsourced their work to us? Neither do I, but apparently that was the case after World War II, when many American factories had a surplus capacity while Europe and Asia were still rebuilding.

This 10.5-minute video shows the Talgo train under construction at ACF’s Berwick, Pennsylvania factory.

In 1949–the same year Budd introduced the RDC–American Car & Foundry (ACF) fulfilled a contract to build three Talgo trains, including three locomotives and 32 cars, for the Spanish government-owned railroad. Talgo stands for “Tren Articulado Ligero Goicoechea Oriol” which means “lightweight, articulated train by Goicoechea and Oriol,” the latter two being the company founders.

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The Car You Were Once Going to Ride In

Budd took the rail industry by surprise when it introduced the Rail Diesel Car, or RDC, in 1949. Though not really streamlined, RDCs had fluted, stainless steel bodies and could carry up to 90 passengers–more than the Pioneer Zephyr or M-10000. Other configurations could carry 70 passengers and a baggage area or 49 passengers and a baggage/railway post office.

Budd had already sold several RDCs by the time this ad was published in the March 1950 National Geographic, but apparently not by the time the ad was prepared as no specific railroads are mentioned in the ad. Click any image for a larger view; most of the larger images are around 2 MB.

It was a testament to improvements in Diesel technology that an RDC could be powered by two 275-horsepower Diesel engines that were compact enough to fit in the undercarriage of the car. By comparison, the 600-hp engines required to move the M-10000 and Pioneer Zephyr were huge, taking up most of the first car of each of the three-car trains.

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Northern Pacific Corporate Stationery

At first glance, this appears to be an ordinary sheet of corporate letterhead. But it turns out to be four pages long (11″x17″ folded in half), with pages 2 through 4 devoted to photos advertising the vista-dome North Coast Limited.

Click image to download a 4.2-MB PDF of this four-page letterhead/brochure.

The interior photos include familiar scenes of dome cars, the Traveller’s Rest, the diner, coaches, and sleeping rooms. But the back page features photos of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington–cities not served by the North Coast Limited. Railroads never hesitated to recommend their own trains to prospective travelers even if those trains didn’t go where the travelers wanted to go.

Of course, travelers from Seattle to the East Coast had a choice of routes, and if they didn’t want to fly the North Coast Limited was an attractive option. However, this is an unusual switch as most Northern Pacific advertising was directed to travelers from the East and Midwest who wanted to visit the Northwest.