Archive Gallery: Thrilling Trains of the Future

If only our Thanksgiving travel plans included rides on cross-country high-speed rails, propeller-powered monorails, and the mythical Long Island bullet train

When you live in New York, catching the train during your morning commute is a pain in the ass. John A. Hastings, a former New York state senator, recognized the pain of running like a fool toward a train that would inevitably zoom away just as you arrived on the platform. To ease Manhattan's rush hour, he recommended installing trains capable of running 150 miles per hour on the Long Island and New Jersey railroads. Although 150 mph sounds pretty darn ambitious for our beloved LIRR, Hastings insisted it could be done with his new cartruck and rubber-cushioned roadbed technology. Rubber insets on prestressed concrete roadways would reduce side sway, allowing his lightweight electric trains to zip along at 2 and a half miles per minute. The project would cost the city $900 million. Not surprisingly, transportation authorities were skeptical of Hastings' expensive idea, but the city of Havana, pictured left, expressed interest in his high-speed transit methods. Read the full story in "Catching the 8:05 Could Be a Thrill!"

Nothing makes you wish for a high-speed rail, a flying car, or a teleportation device like having to travel over Thanksgiving. Apparently, the future of chaos-free commuting is in Europe, Japan and China, where passengers enjoy the luxury of trains that glide along at 200 miles per hour. Meanwhile, those of us living in America get to choose between radioactive scanners, enhanced pat-downs, and the joy of holiday highway congestion. Injustice! Suffice to say, our maglev train envy is making the spirit of Thanksgiving a little harder to grasp this year.

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Alas, high-speed rails may not arrive on our fair shores until the year 2040. Lord knows we’ve hankered after them for a good 138 years now. Even people traveling by steam engine knew that the future of American train travel needed to break 200 miles per hour.

If there’s one thing Popular Science has taught me about retrofuturism, it’s that even the most improbable ideas never die. They crop up, go dormant for twenty years, and reappear once a new generation of visionaries grows tired of the status quo. Take, for example, the super speedy, aero transit monorail. In 1919, a French inventor proposed combining an airship, a fuselage, and a train to create a propeller-driven monorail with wings. We were interested, but skeptical that it could actually reach 150 miles per hour without using wheels. Eleven years later, a Scottish inventor built a similar train, but with an overhanging rail instead of wings. We were excited for awhile, but got distracted by magnetic levitation. In 1972, long after Japan unveiled its Shinkansen trains, we began to suspect that it’d be decades before we could implement that technology. So we began dreaming of hanging trains again, but this time, minus the propeller.

More than likely, it will be awhile before America gets its own high-speed rail. Perhaps by then, flying cars and teleportation devices will have gone commercial, thus eliminating the need for high-speed rails. One thing’s for sure though–until high-speed rails become obsolete, and as long as we have a traffic problem, our hearts won’t give up on a New York – California Maglev train.

While waiting for the turkey to finish roasting, click through our gallery to read about the Soviet Union’s amphibian rail, the Long Island/New Jersey bullet train, and more concept vehicles from the future past. Believe it or not, nine out of 10 of these railway systems were designed to beat 150 miles per hour.