Rocket Train Faster than Sound (Apr, 1948)

Unfortunately it would run out of fuel in about a minute.

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Rocket Train Faster than Sound

TOMORROW’S train will be too fast for a timetable. Leave New York at 12 noon for the coast, and you’ll arrive in Los Angeles at the same time, the same day!

How’s that? At 1,000-mph your train will travel as fast as the sun in its apparent motion across the earth from east to west. You’ll pace the sun through every time zone from Eastern Standard to Pacific Time as your wheel-less train glides across the continent in three hours on its graphite-lubricated slippers. It’ll take the sun three hours to race the same distance, and you’ll flash into L.A. in a dead heat—at the same time you started!

Such a super train is depicted here by MI Artist, Doug Rolfe. Its pattern is the Army “sled” recently tested at Muroc Air Base by the Northrop Aircraft Co. With five solid-fuel rockets it streaked along its standard-gauge railroad track at 1,019 mph, far faster than the speed of sound.

The sled originally was designed to help plane engineers crack the 750-mph barrier of sound and test air models at supersonic speeds. Before the sled shot off the rails and buried itself in the desert, however, it set a world’s record for speed on land and opened the way for a revolution in transport and rapid dispersal of our sardine-packed cities. •

13 comments
  1. Mitch says: March 17, 20119:38 am

    Sounds like a fine idea. I can’t imagine any possible safety issues with a design like this. Oh sure, there’s the lack of brakes, and the complete inability to negotiate any kind of curve, and the occasional immolated trainspotter, but those are just minor nits. Perfectly safe.

  2. Jari says: March 17, 201110:27 am

    Mitch: Of course there’s a brake; Just cut off the graphite lubrication. Should be a spectacular sight at dark hours with sparks showering around. Cow-catcher at 1000mph train is a nice touch :)

  3. Nomen Nescio says: March 17, 20112:12 pm

    supersonic train for Los Angeles, now departing platform #5 — all passengers please stand back 1500 feet or risk being burned to a crisp. i repeat, please evacuate platforms 2-8 for safety buffer against train departing platform #5…

  4. Anton says: March 17, 20114:06 pm

    All passengers are automatically moved to the rear of the car and look like poorly wrapped packages of hamburger upon their arrival.

  5. Mcubstead says: March 17, 20116:03 pm

    Wow. Image living near the tracks….How much sound proofing would it take to make a house livable???

  6. John Savard says: March 17, 20118:49 pm

    I assume they would only have one platform, and the tracks would be situated far away from anywhere that people lived. Some farmers might need to keep track of the train schedules, though…

    But the article perpetuates fallacious thinking. You would arrive in Los Angeles three hours later than when you started. The fact that this time, three hours later, is the same local time of day as the earlier time when you left in a different location doesn’t change that.

  7. Toronto says: March 17, 20119:01 pm

    John: Oh, I don’t know. It sounds like it’s meant in more of a joshing tone to me. Of course we know they mean “local lock time” not elapsed time, but we allow ourselves to slip into the silliness of a zero-time trip, just a bit.

    Nice Buck Rogers look to it without going gaga.

  8. Stephen Edwards says: March 18, 20113:20 am

    Let’s see… At supersonic speeds, this thing would be sending off sonic booms so the people miles from the track would be having almost as much fun as those near the track.

    The main reason airliners fly at high altitudes is to reduce air resistance and hence fuel consumption, and resistance goes up dramatically at supersonic speeds (hence the prohibitive operating cost of the Concorde) and at sea level, so even if the thing didn’t run out of fuel in the first minute, it would consume inordinate amounts of fuel and be prohibitively costly to operate. Unless you made it atomic.

    Finally, see selected episodes of Mythbusters to see what happens when supersonic rocket sleds collide with things. The word “vaporize” comes to mind.

  9. fallingblox says: March 19, 20118:30 pm

    Stephen King foresaw the real problem with this plan. “Blaine is a pain … and that is the truth”

  10. Solomon says: March 20, 20112:43 am

    But this train will be so slow in the other direction. It will take six hours to go from Los Angeles to New York.

  11. Charlie says: March 20, 20117:56 am

    fallingblox: I just read that book. I’m on #5, can’t believe I never read The Gunslinger series before now. Super fun.

  12. Obvious says: March 20, 201111:12 pm

    Well, it wouldn’t take huge amounts of fuel or generate sonic booms or have to worry about a lot of other design considerations if they make a long tube (like a subway tunnel except at ground level) and largely evacuate the atmosphere inside the tube. Put a pressurized cabin train inside this vacuum tube on maglev tracks and blammo: 2000mph and the most fuel efficent form of travel yet.

  13. darren says: March 28, 20119:42 pm

    Do their calculations assume the train leaves and arrives at 1000mph? No speed up or slow down? What about going through populated areas or entering LA?

    Too fast for a tabletable….hehe

    Passenger: What time does the train depart?

    Ticket Master: It’s too fast for that?

    Passenger: Hmm ok…what time does it arrive in LA? I have my uncle picking me up.

    Ticket Master: I’m sorry it’s too fast for that as well.

    Passenger: Well what frinken time do you want me here to board the train?

    Ticket Master: Look it’s too fast for a time table. Hang around and we’ll let you know.

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