Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Sunday Streamline #57: The Zeppelin Train

The New Haven's Comet was presented to the public as "Latest Diesel-Engine Train Built Like Airships. " *

Probably it is less famous that the Reichsbahn's "rail zeppelin". But it was built by Goodyear-Zeppelin company, a German-American joint venture created to build airships.

Here is the story of this unique train (previously mentioned here in Flying Americans 1.0 & 2.0), brought to us by Marty Bernard on his enlightening and very much readable AmericanRails website.

The New York, New Haven, & Hartford Railroad, which is commonly referred to as simply the New Haven, is often not widely thought of for operating streamliners. However, in the mid-1930s it did purchase a novel articulated trainset that made headlines, was reasonably successful, very fast, and quite reliable; the Comet. This little train was the product of the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation, a joint United States-German venture. Had the idea for the Comet been planned just a few years later it almost assuredly would never have happened given the conflict between the two nations that began in late 1941. Interestingly, the success of the train ultimately lead it to being bumped from main line service. With the New Haven having money difficulties at the time and the articulated trainset not setup to have extra equipment added to it without greater expense it was eventually scrapped in the early 1950s.

With the resounding successes of both the Burlington's Pioneer Zephyr and Union Pacific's M-10000 of 1934 the New Haven Railroad decided that it too would test the streamliner waters and have its own trainset built. Unsure of who to turn to the company eventually chose the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation. While the name sounds strange, Goodyear-Zeppelin was looking to make a splash in the railroad business after the airship industry took a major public relations hit with the crash of the U.S. Navy's Akron in 1933. Despite the fact that the company had never built any type of railroad equipment their first, and only, streamliner proved to be quite successful and reliable.

The Comet would never have became a reality, however, if it were not for the federal government, which through the Public Works Administration floated the New Haven a loan to purchase the streamliner in 1934. By June, 1935 the train was ready for service and was an attractive design for a company that had never built such equipment before. Overall, the Comet was quite similar to the original Zephyr and M-10000; a three-car articulated trainset with a shovel nose very similar to the Zephyr. The train was much lighter than the its two more well known counterparts at just 126 tons. It employed just four trucks and was constructed of lightweight aluminum as the M-10000.

Goodyear-Zeppelin gave the train a flashy deep blue, silver, and white livery which was suited to its top speed of 95 mph. For power the train utilized a Westinghouse-built diesel engine in each power car located at each end of the train (this negated the need to turn the train, saving time among other things). Each prime mover was capable of producing 400 horsepower although only one was operating while the train was in service. When the Comet entered service it operated along the New Haven's main line between Providence and Boston, able to complete the 43-mile journey in just 45 minutes (advertised as "44 miles in 44 minutes" - L.K.) and its low profile and small size made it ideal for the railroad's circuitous route.

Overall, the train could accommodate 160 passengers (rather surprising for such a small thing) and while it offered comforts like air-conditioning and indirect lighting no other on board amenities were available such as a parlor or diner (basically it was an all-coach affair). Still, the train was the first of its kind to operate in the Northeast and drew very large crowds.

The New Haven spent a great deal of money promoting the train (such as ornate and colorful foldout pamphlets), mostly in the local region and not nationally as had the Burlington and Union Pacific done with their new streamliners. Unfortunately, the train became so successful that the NYNH&H was forced to pull the train from its original routing. To make matters worse the railroad did not have any available funds to build or order any new trainsets (it would almost surely had done so if the company was not extremely strapped financially due to the ongoing depression). As it where, in 1943 the Comet was shifted to local service where it was not nearly as successful.

(via brian.m.rule241 @ Flickr)

By that point the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation had already been disbanded in 1941 due to the World War II conflict and in September, 1951 the New Haven finally pulled the Comet from service permanently. In those days the idea of preserving noted equipment for historical purposes was hardly an afterthought and the New Haven quickly scrapped the trainset after its retirement. To learn much more about the history of the Comet please visit Mike's rail history page.

Headline picture: Westinghouse ad via Plan59

B&W images: Con-Cor website

* Popular Mechanics, July 1935

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