The Schienenzeppelin or rail zeppelin was an experimental railcar which resembles a zeppelin airship in appearance. It was designed and developed by the German aircraft engineer Franz Kruckenberg in 1929.
Propulsion was by means of an airplane propeller located at the rear, and only a single example was ever built.
The train was built at the beginning of 1930 in the Hannover-Leinhausen works of the German Imperial Railway "Deutsche Reichsbahn" company. The work was completed by autumn of the same year.
On May 10, 1931, the train exceeded a velocity of 200 km/h (120 mph) for the first time. Afterwards, it was exhibited to the general public throughout Germany.
On 21 June 1931, the train set a new world railway speed record of 230 km/h (140 mph) on the route Berlin-Hamburg between Karstädt and Dergenthin, which was not surpassed by any other train until 1954.
The railcar still holds the land speed record for a petrol powered rail vehicle. This high speed was attributable, amongst other things, to its low weight, which was only 20.3 tonnes.
In 1932 Kruckensberg began a new project with the rail car involving significant modifications. It was cut just behind the forward wheels and received a complete new front end with a two-axle bogie, resembling the later 137 155 railcar. The rear single axle remained as it was. The modifications were completed by November 1932. The aircraft engine was still used, however, the power transmission was hydraulic through two Fottinger-Fluid drives for both directions of travel, these were fitted on the forward bogie. A pointed fairing was installed in place of the propeller. These changes meant that the earlier 1-1 wheel arrangement was replaced by B-1 with the front axle replaced by a powered bogie.This version of the vehicle reached 180km/h at the beginning of 1933.
At the beginning of 1934 the train was rebuilt for the last time, and a Maybach GO 5 engine was installed. In July 1934 it was sold to the Deutsche Reichsbahn for 10,000 Reichsmarks. Five years later, in 1939 the rail zeppelin was finally dismantled because its material was needed by the German army.
The failure of Schienenzeppelin has been attributed to everything from the dangers of using an open propeller in crowded railway stations to fierce competition between Kruckenberg's company and the Deutsche Reichsbahn's separate efforts to build highspeed railcars. One disadavantage of the rail zeppelin was the inherent difficulty of pulling additional wagons to form a train, because of its construction. Furthermore, the train could not use its propeller to climb steep gradients, as the flow would separate when full power was applied. Thus an additional means of propulsion was needed for such circumstances.
One true-to-original version is the Z scale model, produced as a limited production run in 1982 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Z scale. Kato/Hobbytrain created an N scale version of the Schienenzeppelin in 2005; which includes a PAL format DVD, with original footage of the prototype train.
And for a dessert - an advertising car in the Schienenzeppelin guise: