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Preserved British steam locomotive of the former London, Midland and Scottish (LMS) Railway, Princess Coronation Class No. 6229 Duchess of Hamilton, 6 June 2009. The locomotive was built as a streamliner in 1938 in a blue and silver livery, and was exported to the United States (painted as Class sister No. 6220) for a 3,000 mile tour and visit to the 1939 New York World's Fair, before returning in 1942. The streamlining was removed in 1947 for ease of maintenance. She was re-streamlined in 2009 and put on display at the National Railway Museum in York. (side view)

A streamliner is any vehicle that incorporates streamlining to produce a shape that provides less resistance to air. The term is most often applied to certain high-speed railway trainsets of the 1930s to 1950s, and to their successor "bullet trains". Less commonly, the term is applied to fully faired recumbent bicycles. The term was also applied to cars, but now car streamlining is so prevalent that it is not an outstanding characteristic. In land speed racing, it is a term applied to the long, slender, custom built, high-speed vehicles with enclosed wheels.


Streamlined trainsets

Streamliners before World War II

United Kingdom and Europe

The first high-speed streamliner in Germany was the "Schienenzeppelin", an experimental propeller driven single car, built 1930. On June 21, 1931 it set a speed record of 230.2 km/h (143.0 mph) on a run between Berlin and Hamburg. In 1932 the propeller was removed and a hydraulic system installed. After that, the Schienenzeppelin made 180 km/h (110 mph) in 1933.

DRG Class SVT 137 Flying Hamburger at Leipzig main station

The Schienenzeppelin led to the construction of the diesel-electric DRG Class SVT 877 "Flying Hamburger". This 2-car train set had 98 seats and a top speed of 160 km/h (99 mph). During regular service starting May 15, 1933, this train ran the 286 kilometers (178 mi) distance between Hamburg and Berlin in 138 minutes with an average speed of 124.4 km/h (77.3 mph). The SVT 877 was the prototype for the DRG Class SVT 137, first built in 1935 for use in the FDt express train service. During test drives, the SVT 137 "Bauart Leipzig" set a world speed record of 205 km/h (127 mph) in 1936. The fastest regular service with SVT 137 was between Hannover and Hamm with an average speed of 132.2 km/h (82.1 mph). This service lasted until August 22, 1939.

Mallard streamlined class A4 pacific, the fastest ever steam locomotive

In the United Kingdom development of streamlined passenger services began in 1934 with the Great Western Railway introducing relatively low speed streamlined railcar and the London and North Eastern Railway introducing the 'Silver Jubilee' service using streamlined A4 class steam locomotives and full length trains rather than railcars. In 1938 on a test run the locomotive Mallard built for this service broke the record for the fastest steam locomotive reaching 125 mph (201 km/h). The London Midland and Scottish Railway introduced streamline locomotives of the Princess Coronation Class shortly before the outbreak of war.

The Ferrovie dello Stato (Italian railways) developed the FS Class ETR 200, a three unit electric streamliner. The development started in 1934. These trains went into service in 1937. On December 6, 1937 an ETR 200 made a top speed of 201 km/h (125 mph) between Campoleone and Cisterna on the run Rome-Naples. In 1939 the ETR 212 even made 203 km/h (126 mph). The 219 kilometers (136 mi) journeys from Bologna to Milan were made in 77 minutes, meaning an average of 171 km/h (106 mph).

In The Netherlands Nederlandse Spoorwegen introduced the Materieel 34 (DE3) a three unit 140 km/h (87 mph) streamlined diesel-electric trainset in 1934. An electric version, Materieel 36 went into service in 1936. From 1940 the "Dieselvijf" (DE5), a 160 km/h (99 mph) top speed five unit diesel-electric trainset based on DE3, completed the Dutch streamliner fleet. During test runs, a DE5 ran 175 km/h (109 mph). In the same year the similar electric Materieel 40 were first built.

United States

The Burlington Zephyr in April 1934.

Facing a catastrophic loss of business during the Great Depression, American railroads cast their eyes of streamlined trains that were made of light weight material, were streamlined to gain speed, and used an internal combustion diesel engine rather than steam.[1]Two early American streamliners were the Union Pacific M-10000 (nicknamed Little Zip and as The City of Salina in revenue service 1934-41) and the Burlington Zephyr. Design of the Zephyr (later named the Pioneer Zephyr to distinguish it) started first, although the train took longer to build because of a more advanced design incorporating a diesel-electric power system, while the M-10000 used a spark-ignition engine running on "petroleum distillate", a fuel similar to kerosene. These trains were much lighter than the common engines and passenger cars of the day, as the "Zephyr"was constructed using stainless steel and the M-10000 chiefly of the aircraft alloy Duralumin. Both trains were star attractions at the 1933–1934 World's Fair ("A Century of Progress") in Chicago, Illinois.

On May 26, 1934, the Zephyr made a record-breaking "Dawn to Dusk" run from Denver, Colorado to Chicago. The train covered the distance in 13 hours, reaching a top speed of 112.5 mph (181.1 km/h) and running an average speed of 77.6 mph (124.9 km/h). The fuel cost for the run was US$14.64 (a mere 4¢ per gallon—if a similar run was made in 2004, it would cost more like $550-650.)

For a short time in the late 1930s, the ten fastest trains in the world were all American streamliners.

A wide variety of Zephyrs were eventually built for Burlington by the Budd Company. For example, after the introduction of the Pioneer Zephyr, two Twin Cities Zephyrs of the same design briefly served the link between Chicago and the Twin Cities. As a public relations gimmick, the two trains first headed to Minnesota on parallel tracks while loaded with, naturally, twins. Within a few years, they were replaced by other trains of a slightly different design and the original twin trains went on to serve elsewhere on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.

Streamlined 4-6-2 "President"-class steam locomotive on B&O's New YorkWashington, D.C. Royal Blue in 1937

The success of the visual styling of the stainless steel locomotives did not go unnoticed by railroads still committed to the steam engine. Many steam locomotives were also streamlined during this time to attract passengers, although the streamlining was less effective in improving efficiency for those engines than it was in making a visual statement. Nonetheless, some of these steam locomotives still became very fast—some were said to exceed 120 mph (193 km/h) on a fairly regular basis around this time. Some famous examples include the New York Central's "Super Hudsons" as used on the Twentieth Century Limited and Empire State Express; the Milwaukee Road's purpose-build Atlantics and Hudsons used in "Hiawatha" service; the Pennsylvania Railroad's duplex-drive 4-4-4-4 type T1 locomotives, and two Union Pacific engines, a 4-6-2 and a 4-8-2, used on the "Forty Niner" and other trains.

Streamliners after World War II


Streamliners and successor high-speed train systems largely disappeared in the United States due to the increasing popularity of the automobile and airline travel. Following a 1951 decision by the Interstate Commerce Commission, most trains were also restricted to speeds of 79 mph (127 km/h) or below unless automatic train stop, automatic train control, or cab signalling was installed.[2] Government regulations forced all railroads to continue to operate passenger-carrying rail service, even on long routes where, the railroads argue, it was almost impossible to make a profit. Many argue that these regulations and the government's heavy support of highway-building projects exacerbated the problem. Since 1971, the majority of passenger rail systems in the United States have been operated by Amtrak. Faster Acela Express trains have been introduced in the Boston to Washington DC Northeast Corridor. Many areas around the United States have been considering construction of new high-speed lines, but rail travel is much less common in the United States than in Europe or Japan.

After 26 years of service and traveling over 3,000,000 miles (4,800,000 km), the Pioneer Zephyr took up residence at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. The M-10000 unfortunately found its way to the scrap heap, along with many other early trainsets. It was retired in 1942 and its Duralumin skin was recycled for military aircraft. Some have survived, though. The Flying Yankee, the third streamliner to be completed, is currently undergoing restoration to operational condition. Its design is only slightly different from the first Zephyr.


Class 601 ex TEE 1986 Munich Südring

In Europe the streamliner tradition gained new life after the Second World War. In Germany, the DRG Class SVT 137 were used again, but at lower speed. Based on the Kruckenberg SVT 137 the famous DB Class VT 11.5 (later renamed to DB Class 601) was used as "Trans Europ Express (TEE)" for international high speed trains. In East Germany the DR Class VT 18.6 was built for international express service also. From 1965, DB used more and more streamlined electric locomotives DB Class 103 with regular trains for high speed service, but from 1973 DB used with the DB Class ET 403 (nickname "Donald Duck") a real streamliner again. The ET 403 was a four-unit electric train with tilting technology. Since 1991 the ICE Service with ICE 1 (Class 401) is used for high speed service. However, it needed more than 60 years to break the record speed of the first "Flying Hamburger" from 1933 on the run Hamburg-Berlin.

The Swiss SBB and the Dutch NS developed the RAm TEE (Dutch: DE) for the routes Zurich-Amsterdam and Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris. These trains were sold in 1977 to the Canadian Ontario Northland Railway (ONR) and served on the line TorontoMoosonee as the Northlander. From 1961, SBB used the SBB RAe TEE II, a four system electric streamlined trainset for the TEE service.

Italy also made use of the pre war trains and FS developed new trains like the FS Class ETR 300 ("Settebello", FS Class ETR 401, ETR 450 (Pendolino) and ETR 500.

In the United Kingdom streamline services ended on the outbreak of war. During the war the LNER and LMS streamlined locomotives had part of their streamlining removed to aid maintenance while other streamline locomotives had the streamlining removed. By the late 1940s and early 1950s the state of the railways was improving as war damage and delayed maintenance work cleared more and more mainline track for high speed running.

HST power car 43127 is shown here crossing the Kennet and Avon Canal

The first experiments with diesel streamliner services in the United Kingdom were the "Blue Pullman" trains introduced in 1960 and withdrawn in 1973. These provided 90 mph (140 km/h) luxury business services, but were never hugely successful and ran little faster than mainstream services. The Blue Pullman was followed by various research work into streamlined trains and tilting trains which led to the iconic Intercity 125 (Class 43) offering 125 mph (201 km/h) train services across the United Kingdom.

High speed train services today

Throughout most of the world many if not most high speed passenger trains are now streamlined, and speeds have continued to rise as high-speed rail services become the normal long distance rail service.

Specific trainsets

Streamlined cars

Production vehicles

Vehicles used for speed records

Streamlined buses

Many buses soon adopted a stylish streamline look in the 1930s[3] with tests showing that streamlined design reduced fuel costs.[4]

Streamlined trailers

Airstream trailer

Camping (caravan) trailer manufacturers have also employed streamlining to make more easily towed trailers. Current and past manufactures have included: Airstream, Avalon, Bonair Oxygen.

Streamlined water transport

Ferry Kalakala

Streamlining was applied to the art deco style auto/passenger ferry Kalakala in the 1930s.

Sterling Streamliner Diners

Inspired by the streamlined trains, and especially the Burlington Zephyr, Roland Stickney designed a diner in the shape of a streamlined trainset called the Sterling Streamliner in 1939.[5] Built by the J.B. Judkins coach company, who had previously built custom car bodies,[6] the Sterling and all other diner production ceased in 1942 at the beginning on American involvement in World War II.

One Sterling Streamliner remains in operation as the Modern Diner in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

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