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Monday, 17 March 2008

Train Spotter

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It's a Jet! It's a Train! It's M-497!!! The first Jet-Powered train from 1966.

Don Wetzel and his crew adapted two General Electric J-47-19 jet engines, which had been designed as boosters for the Convair B-36 intercontinental bomber. These were mounted just above the engineer’s station at the front of the car. Wetzel’s original design had the jet engines at the rear, but this changed after his wife, making her point with some sketches on a dinner napkin, suggested that the locomotive would look better with them mounted up front. This switch also helped keep the nose of the locomotive on the tracks. The Cleveland shop fashioned a black streamlined cowling for the front of the Budd car, which was designated M-497. Workers called it the Black Beetle.

On July 23, 1966, Wetzel, the chief pilot, wearing a jet pilot’s helmet emblazoned with the New York Central logo, opened up the GE jets and sent the M-497 rolling. According to Wetzel,“We were just holding on. It was a ride!” With Alfred E. Perlman in the copilot’s seat and other N.Y.C. executives on board, movie cameras posted at milepost 347+13 recorded the M-497 flashing by at 183.85 miles per hour, a U.S. rail-speed record that stands to this day.

The M-497 tests were meant “to determine how we can best serve the needs of the traveling public for fast, reliable and less-costly intercity transportation, and, at the same time, combat the rising trend of our passenger deficit which is threatening the continuation of all rail passenger services.” Shortly after the tests the New York Central was abandoning conventional passenger service on routes longer than 200 miles—including such storied trains as the 20th Century Limited, the Wolverine, and the Empire State Express—to concentrate on fast intercity service on shorter runs. In view of the current sorry state of high-speed intercity rail service in the United States, one can only wish that the New York Central’s experiment had been either less bold or less experimental.

Thanks to American Heritage