EU version

The Legacy of TurboTrain: A Glimpse into the 1960s Era of High-Speed Trains

The Legacy of TurboTrain: A Glimpse into the 1960s Era of High-Speed Trains
foto: Marty Bernard, Legacy of TurboTrain: A Glimpse into the 1960s Era of High-Speed Trains
20 / 06 / 2023

During the heyday of jet aviation in the 1960s, the world entered the era of high-speed trains. One such iconic example was the TurboTrain, created by the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC).

This train was based on gas turbine technology designed for aeroplanes and could tilt during curves, allowing for higher speeds. However, despite the promising and innovative nature of the project, a total of seven such trains were built and were only in service for just over a decade.

Of particular interest is the unique design of the TurboTrain. Instead of each car having two bogies (trucks), the cars shared a common bogie, allowing the cars to naturally tilt in bends under the centrifugal force influence, and air springs smoothed out the tilting movements. The train body was made of aluminium, contributing to its lightness and strength.

United States Patent and Trademark Office,

The TurboTrain had a peculiar design, with rounded fronts and rear where the gas turbines and crew cabs were located. Passengers in these cars could watch the crew at work through glass windows. All trains were grouped into semi-permanent trains, making it hard to change cars.

United States Patent and Trademark Office,

The propulsion cars were placed on both sides of each of these trains. When the direction of travel needed to be changed, the crew switched to the other propulsion carriage. The TurboTrain was powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada ST6 turboshaft engines, an evolution of the PT6 engine used in many aircraft. In this case, these 400-horsepower, diesel-powered engines drove the train wheels through a gearbox.


TurboTrain was a response to the challenge of time and the desire for high-speed rail service after the launch of Japan's first generation Shinkansen "bullet trains" in 1964. The main difference with the TurboTrain was the use of a gas turbine engine instead of electricity and the ability to provide higher speeds through aerodynamic form and bend-over technology. But faced with the challenges of old infrastructure and other obstacles, particularly intersections and freight traffic, TurboTrain couldn't realise its full potential.

In addition, TurboTrain faced several technical problems. In winter, the brakes were stuck, and the exhaust gases from the engines polluted the windows. Fires and other technical failures also occurred. Operation of the TurboTrain lasted until 1982, later replaced by conventional diesel trains.

Although the initial ambition and promise of the project, the TurboTrain was unable to fully meet the expectations. However, despite its scrapping, the TurboTrain remains an essential part of the history of high-speed rail development.