Just when you thought that the Weimar Republic couldn’t do anything!
In the 1930’s, when most trains were steam-powered, German Rail experimented with an aluminum train pushed by a propeller, which ran as fast as 140 mph.
Conceived and built in 1930 by the German rail company Deutsche Reichsbahn, the Schienenzeppelin was a design alternative to the streamlined steam locomotives of its day. It was a slick and relatively lightweight at 20 tons, running on but two axles and powered by a 46-liter BMW V-12.
The same engine was later used to power the light bombers of the Luftwaffe. The engine sent 600 horsepower to a massive ash propeller, tilted seven degrees to produce downforce. It was one of those designs that would shock and delight even in these times, when aluminum is used not for Bauhaus trains but for high-revving V-8s and computers from the near future.
Originally good for 120 mph — on par with the fastest streamlined steam locomotives — the topped out at a magnificent 140 mph in the summer of 1931. It was a record that stood for 23 years and was never surpassed by a gasoline-powered locomotive.
Unfortunately, the train never made it into production. Problems with propeller safety (!) and reliability kept it from attaining mass production. The prototype that set the speed record was dismantled in 1939 on the eve of World War II.
A train like this would have given a lot of movie train scenes a very different look. Somehow, I can’t see Bogey waiting next to the Schienenzeppelin in Casablanca.