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Car-carrying coaches that enable the traveler to make a doorway-to-doorway visit across country may be the answer to the woes of the railroads.

By Frank Tinsley

FOR some years now the famous old “high-ball” sign of America’s railroads has degenerated into an “eight-ball” as far as passenger traffic is concerned. Not that travel has fallen off. Actually, John Q. Public’s well-known itching foot is itchier than ever. It is just that rail service has been dragging its brakeshoes and the traveler has turned to more convenient means of transportation.

The reasons for this lamentable state of affairs are not hard to find. The rise of cross-country bus lines, cut-rate air-coach service, superhighways and private automobile travel has hacked a substantial slice out of the railroad’s passenger pie.

Alarmed by the steady drip of red ink, rail management has been trying to plug the leaking dike. So, apparently, have rail stockholders. During the past few months, operating control of several old, conservative lines has passed to more progressive hands and a general atmosphere of modernization seems under way. Advertising campaigns now depict the delights of train travel. Family plans and special rates have eased the bite on John Q’s pocketbook and a whole new series of streamliners, luxury coaches, bars, grills and vistadomes combine to ease his seat, stomach and sight-seeing.

Perhaps the most radical break from the railroad’s stage-coach past is the new Talgo Train, a caterpillar-like, lightweight speedster patterned on airplane construction principles. Originated by a Spanish engineer named Goicoechea, the design was taken up by a Spanish firm, Patentes Talgo, and a well engineered prototype developed and built by our own American Car & Foundry Corporation.

In addition to its lightweight, short, articulated car sections and “guided axles” which steer the wheels around curves, Talgo’s chief characteristic is its “piggy-back” system of suspension. Each unit has but one pair of wheels, situated at its rear end. The forward end of the coach rests and pivots on the wheels of the «nit ahead, somewhat like a trailer truck, and is drawn along with a minimum of effort. Vibration is absorbed by long travel, spiral springs and the wheels are equipped with king-size, automobile-type brakes. With an underslung frame and a car floor that almost seems to skim the roadbed, the Talgo’s center of gravity is a good two feet lower than that of the standard railway coach. This, plus the steerable wheels, permits it to round curves at speeds that would derail the conventional train.

This record, along with recent demonstration runs, has created a decided stir in U.S. railroad circles. A committee was sent to Spain for a first hand report and the presidents of several large eastern systems met to consider the Talgo’s possibilities. When enough rail lines agree on a standardized model and come up with firm orders, a mass production assembly line can be set up and costs cut far below present estimates. Patrick B. McGinnis, the energetic, imaginative new president of the New Haven Railroad, says that if this is done, he will be interested in purchasing at least 20 and perhaps 30 Talgo Trains. Robert Young, who espoused the ultra model Train X when he was president of the Chesapeake & Ohio, and who now bosses the great New York Central system, is expected to follow suit. The head men of the Pennsy, B&O and other fines, are equally interested.

All this sounds fine for both the railroads and the traveling public. But there is still a big, fat fly in the roads’ passenger-revenue ointment. This is the growing group of ex-rail users who now make even the longest and most arduous trips in their own automobiles. Some think it more convenient just to toss their luggage into the family car, slip on some informal duds and drive directly from doorstep to doorstep. And so it is—if the distance is not too great. Another large segment is made up of the false economists. These penny-wise characters figure the gas and oil bills against seemingly higher rail fares and decide to save by driving. What they fail to reckon with, of course, is the expense of motel stops and the extra meals made necessary by the longer road trip.

These are the people railroad passenger agents are re-surveying with acquisitive eyes. Mr. McGinnis, a firm believer in the volume theory of personal rail transport, puts it this way: “The New Haven now carries around twenty million passengers a year—just about all the business traffic in the area. The market we are seeking to develop is that of the pleasure traveler who is now going by car. We have to get ’em back if we are ever going to get our passenger department out of the red!”

There is one point which Mr. McGinnis has missed. That is the problem of people who want to travel by rail but who would like to take their cars along with them. Steamship lines catering to tourists have long offered this service. Car ferries transport vacationists and their automobiles between Florida and Cuba, U. S. and Canadian ports and many other points, here and abroad. In England, there is even a cross-channel air car-lift that flies the family and its bus to and from Paris! When airlines, weight-sensitive as they are, can carry autos, what in tarnation is holding back the railroads?

MI believes that the old iron horse has missed a bet in ignoring this type of service—that the passenger should be able to drive to a depot, check his car through to his destination and drive it away at the other end of the run. The “carfare” would have to be fairly high, of course, but compared to the road costs of a two or three day trip, not to speak of the personal fatigue involved, the difference should not prove too excessive. With this in mind, the author has prepared two concepts of possible “car coach” superstructures, adapted to the new, high speed Talgo running gear.

Fundamentally, they are the same design. One, shown in the diagrammatic drawings, is a stripped down utility model. The other, pictured in the lead illustration, has been prettied up to conform to the flowing lines, window and panel patterns of the Talgo Train. Two, four and even six-car coaches are possible. However, the Talgo philosophy of short, highly articulated, lightweight components, make a 25-foot, two-car unit the most practical from the point of view of weight saving and operational flexibility.

As shown in the diagram on pages 58-59, the entraining car is driven onto a parking belt by an attendant. The belt shuttles the car sideways to a vacant parking space where it stays until the train is ready to load. Then the auto is driven onto another shuttle belt and moved sideways to the correct train-loading gate. The car is then driven through the gate and onto the uniquely designed car coach.

The salient points in the design are the rotating superstructure and the drawbridge type upper deck. The former permits the car-carrying element to pivot outward in either direction, making it possible to load or unload automobiles from way station platforms on either side of the track.

The drawbridge set-up makes double-deck loading equally practical. When the lower .level has been cleared, a switch at the operator’s post starts a reversible electric winch which unwinds to lower one end of the hinged upper deck. Then a second switch eases the car down the incline and out onto the station platform. Another set of switches reverses the process to load. When it reaches the horizontal, spring bolts lock the upper deck automatically.

As a safety measure, these must be manually withdrawn before the deck can be lowered. Another manually operated bolt locks the superstructure in line with the chassis when loading is completed. The cars are fastened securely in their wheelways by chocks and tiedown cables before the train starts. Except for manual unlocking, all operations are by push-button control, easily handled by unskilled attendants.

The car-carrying coach could be a potent factor in the railroads’ struggle to revive its once great passenger traffic. Instead of waging a losing battle with the automobile, it adds a new utility to the family jalopy by putting it on rails. It extends our firmly ingrained habit of chucking a whole mess of stuff into the back of the car and hopping off for a three or four hour drive to Aunt Elsie’s. By making a simple phone reservation and tooling in to a main line station, you will be able to stretch your doorway-to-doorway trip clear across the country! When are the railroads going to wake up and give us this long overdue convenience? When are we going to be able to take our cars with us on the train?

  1. Eric says: May 17, 20118:55 am

    When I was in the service, we had to rail our vehicles across the country a few times. They would inevitably arrive with damage from kids throwing rocks or shooting BB’s at them. For this idea, the cars would have had to be prepped like new cars on trailers are today with their windows covered (at the least). We use to joke about having someone ride in one of the APC’s with a machine gun mounted on the ring to scare the potential vandals.

  2. John says: May 17, 20119:27 am

    Eric: This idea is actually operating today between Virginia and Florida as the Amtrak Auto Train

  3. Hirudinea says: May 17, 201110:22 am

    I’ed like to see this again, except for the vandals.

  4. John says: May 17, 201110:42 am

    Hirudinea: As I think I said just stand near the tracks where it is currently running http://www.youtube.com/…

  5. DrewE says: May 17, 201110:43 am

    As John said, the Auto Train does do essentially what the article suggests, and it works out quite nicely in practice, if rather pricey. Vandalism is thwarted by having the car carrier cars enclosed.

    What on earth is up with the car-moving conveyor belts, though? What possible advantage do they have over an ordinary parking lot? As described, the cars still need to be driven around, so you don’t eliminate the need for any attendants or for starting and stopping the cars. Using ordinary pavement instead has the distinct advantage of permitting different vehicles to be moving independently in the same row of parking spaces, besides being less expensive and much less prone to breakdowns; and this should have been obvious even at the time. I guess having a picture of a parking lot and a simple ramp didn’t seem futuristic enough.

  6. GaryM says: May 17, 201111:51 am

    1955 was just before the Interstate highway system was launched. Doubtless it sounded like a more attractive alternative then.

  7. John says: May 17, 201112:36 pm

    GaryM: Today it’s actually one of the few Amtrak lines showing a profit.

  8. Hirudinea says: May 17, 20111:37 pm

    Yea I know they have one in Flordia, but I don’t live in Flordia, I want to see this near ME!

  9. Stephen says: May 18, 20115:03 am

    A similar but simpler service operated in Britain for many years as “Motorail”. There was no faffing around with conveyor belts: at the station you handed your keys over to a man in an office, who drove your car onto a flatbed truck coupled to the back of the train. The car’s wheels were chained to keep it from rolling during the journey. We did this for years in my childhood when visiting my grandparents. There were no problems with vandalism, but the front window used to frost up, oddly enough, even in summer. Later on the cars were put in enclosed wagons, but the service didn’t pay and was eventually stopped.

  10. Jari says: May 19, 201111:37 am

    There are several “motorail” train routes throughout the Europe and that’s how car’s are transported through some Alpine tunnels and the Channel tunnel.

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