Even if you do not regularly travel by train, you will probably recognize the large yellow colossus of the Dutch Railways out of thousands. In the Netherlands, these means of transport drive safely on rails on the ground. Apart from a bridge here or there, it doesn’t get much more spectacular. Abroad, on the other hand, a train ride can become a much more exciting challenge. How about a floating train that hangs high above the ground or a zeppelin train? You can read about these trains and much more in the top 10 strangest trains below.
10. Wuppertaler Schwebebahn
Popular Science Magazine December 1921
Designed by engineer Eugen Lange , the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn is a suspended suspension train that, as the name suggests, can be found in the town of Wuppertal. Due to a serious lack of space due to, among other things, the river Wupper, but nevertheless a great need for large-scale transport for both the supply and removal of certain substances and products, work had to be done at height and the plan for a suspension train was born. On October 24, 1900, after a construction period of 6 years, the track was finally ready and Kaiser Wilhelm II made a tour in one of the floating carriages. Since March 1, 1901, the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn has also been open to the public.
Approximately 82,000 travelers are transported daily over a length of 13.3 kilometers and a height of 12 meters above the ground. That is, until November 2018, this was the case. The job is currently on hold due to an accident in that month, but the timetable is scheduled to resume in the middle of this year. The accident in 2018 is therefore not the first with the Schwebebahn. Despite the fact that this means of transport was found to be relatively safe over the years, it went wrong twice before. On July 21, 1950, elephant Tuffi traveled on the Schwebebahn as a result of a circus advertising stunt. However, the animal became so panicked during the ride that it jumped straight through a wall of the gondola and then ended up 10 meters lower in the Wupper. Fortunately, Tuffi was unharmed and the train soon resumed its daily route.
This is in contrast to the accident that took place on April 12, 1999 when the fourth car derailed and crashed into the Wupper several meters lower. The accident killed 5 people and injured 46. Despite this serious accident, people’s confidence was not affected and the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn was again eagerly used immediately after the reopening.
9. Tracked Hovercraft
This rail-mounted hovercraft was an experimental high-speed train developed in England in the 1960s. Combining two British discoveries, the hovercraft and the linear induction motor, should create an intercity train system that would not only be cheaper than normal rails and trains, but also a lot faster at speeds of up to 400 km/h.
After numerous prototypes, tests, calculations, examples and numerous adjustments, it was almost time and major production started in 1970. However, the joy was short-lived because, apart from a test drive on February 7, 1973, not much happened to this train. The final design turned out not to be efficient enough and, moreover, the cost price turned out to be even higher due to the adjustments still to be made. A week after the first major test drive, the project was canceled and the train set ended up at Cranfield University, where it would remain outside for the next 20 years. It was not until 1996 that the Tracked Hovercraft was added to Railworld Wildlife Haven (a kind of museum and also resting place for old trains) where it was later restored. The train, together with a scale model, will probably still be on display here in the coming years. The project’s original documents, blueprints, videos and photos are also stored in the library of the Hovercraft Museum in Hampshire, as are a scale model of the train and a working miniature.
8. Armored Trains
Armored trains have carriages equipped with artillery and machine guns. They were mainly used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to move large amounts of firepower at once. In addition, because of the length, a wide variety of weapons could be taken along. For example, the trains were equipped with artillery, infantry wagons for the transport of soldiers, machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, command wagons equipped with armor, anti-tank guns, sleeping cars, missile transport cars. In addition, the German Wehrmacht often placed a light tank that they had captured or one of their own Panzer II tanks on a low wagon. Not only could this tank fire its ammunition from its position on the train,
In addition to different types of steel plates, cement, concrete and in some cases even sandbags were used as armor.
Most countries have now stopped using these trains because other defense vehicles are now much more powerful and flexible in use and train tracks have proven to be much more susceptible to sabotage and air attacks by the enemy. The only country that has made use of these trains quite recently is Russia. During the second Chechen war, the Russian army used improvised armored trains from 1999 to 2009.
7. Micheline, the train car
Michelines were trains fitted with rubber tires made in France around 1930 by several railway companies in collaboration with tire manufacturer Michelin. Most of these train cars had their own engine, although a number of wagons were produced without their own propulsion.
Due to the use of rubber tires, rides in a Micheline were extremely comfortable. However, these train cars soon turned out to experience many problems. For example, the tires could not handle the weight of normal wagon dimensions and up to twenty wheels had to be put under each wagon, which in turn resulted in many flat tires. That is why the life of the Micheline did not last long and was exchanged for trains with steel wheels.
The Aérotrain is a kind of monorail that floats on a track in the shape of an inverted T by means of an air cushion. Developed by the French Jean Bertin between 1964 and 1977, this train with a top speed of 422 km/h was the fastest air-cushion vehicle ever. Due to the limited friction of steel-on-steel, the Aérotrain could reach top speed much faster than a TGV. In addition, the top speed was also significantly higher, there was less track resistance and a lower track pressure. So you might think that these are quite a few advantages, but the project was stopped in 1977 to make way for the TGV. Despite many test runs with both scale models and full size, the Aérotrain could not beat this major competitor that we can still use to this day.
5. Bennie Railplane
A cross between a train and an airplane, that was the Bennie Railplane. In 1929 George Bennie started building the prototype of this special vehicle that moved under an overhead track by means of propellers. Bennie’s idea was that this Railplane could run above regular train traffic so that the faster passenger transport and the transport of mail and perishable goods could be distinguished from the rest. Despite worldwide interest and a well-functioning prototype, Bennie was unable to secure the necessary finances. In fact, by the end of 1937, Bennie was bankrupt after having largely self-financed his project. The prototype railway plane lay rusting in a meadow for a long time until it was sold for scrap in 1956. The following year George Bennie died.
4. M-497 Black Beetle
A train with a rather special, almost futuristic appearance. The M-497 was an American experimental locomotive powered by two used General Electric J47-19 jet engines from an old Peacemaker bomber. After several test drives on the mostly straight stretches of rails between Butler, Indiana and Stryker, Ohio, the Black Beetle reached the horrific speed of 295.60 km/h on July 23, 1966. A speed record that has still not been broken to this day.
Despite this super speed and relatively cheap production by means of used parts, the M-497 was not a success and also not commercially attractive. After the jet engines were removed, the locomotive was used by Conrail until 1977. The jet engines briefly served as an experimental snow thrower, but while they proved to be very effective at removing snow and ice, additional aspects also meant that they were unsuccessful.
Maybe you know this one from old western movies† Before steam trains existed, goods were transported by means of rails with carts pulled mainly by horses, people or simply gravity. Especially in coal mines, a Wagonway was an ideal means of transport to get the coal out of the dark shafts, but also on land, especially in America, these small wagons were used to transport goods. Depending on the amount of horsepower, several of these wagons were linked together to form a train. Initially wooden rails were used. The transition to metal was gradually made around 1760 and in 1804 Richard Trevithick introduced the first steam powered wagons. With that, the Wagonway slowly came to an end and that might be a good thing. A caravan of fully loaded wagons is of course not nothing to have to pull as a horse.
2. Gyro monorail
The Gyro monorail was a vehicle that moved on a single rail. It may have looked a little crazy and unstable with its narrow, single axis in the middle, but gyroscopic force on a spinning wheel balanced this monorail stably enough not to tip over. A fully working prototype was built in the early 20th century by Louis Brennan, August Scherl and Pyotr Shilovsky. Each independent of the other. Later a prototype was built in America in 1962 by Ernest F. Swinney, Harry Ferreira and Louis E. Swinney.
However, this was also the end of the Gyro monorail because it didn’t get much further than this last prototype. Because the gyroscope had to work constantly and only a maximum speed of 7 km/h could be reached, This monorail turned out not to be as efficient as people initially thought. In addition, the Gyro monorail bends in curves just like a motorcyclist. You can imagine that this is not so handy when you are packed and slumped on a bench and then slide from one side to the other in curves.
Franz Jansen (†), Erkrath
Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-11902 / Georg Pahl / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Literally translated, Schienenzeppelin means Railszeppelin. With this name it is therefore not surprising that this experimental train had the appearance of a zeppelin. Following on from the Aérowagon, the German aircraft engineer Franz Kruckenberg thought in 1929 that if an aircraft engine and a propeller were added to this train, a completely new type of train could be developed.
After various tests and adjustments, Kruckenberg managed to build a Schienenzeppelin in June 1931 that, with a maximum speed of 230.2 km/h, even set a new world record for the fastest petrol-driven rail vehicle on land. As with many strange trains, the Schienenzeppelin soon came to an end. Shortly after he had been able to write the record to his name, the first and also only built Schienenzeppelin disappeared from the track. With an open propeller, the safety risk turned out to be too great, especially if the train would call at crowded stations. In addition, the propeller also turned out to be very inconvenient to connect other wagons and thus form a longer train.
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