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Title: Streamliner  
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Subject: Washington Park and Zoo Railway, Amtrak, Streamliners, M-10003 to M-10006, Big Dome
Collection: Automotive Styling Features, Locomotives, Streamliners
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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, June 6, 2009. The locomotive was built as a streamliner in 1938, 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 displayed at the National Railway Museum in York.

A streamliner is a vehicle incorporating streamlining in a shape providing reduced air resistance. The term is applied to 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. As part of the Streamline Moderne trend, the term was applied to passenger cars, trucks, and other types of light-, medium-, or heavy-duty vehicles, but now vehicle 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.


  • Trains 1
    • Before World War II 1.1
      • Europe 1.1.1
      • United States 1.1.2
      • Japan 1.1.3
    • Streamliners after World War II 1.2
      • United States 1.2.1
      • Europe 1.2.2
      • Japan 1.2.3
    • High speed train services today 1.3
    • Specific trainsets 1.4
    • Streetcars 1.5
  • Automobiles 2
    • Production vehicles 2.1
    • Land speed racing 2.2
      • Electric 2.2.1
      • Internal combustion 2.2.2
      • Jet and rocket 2.2.3
  • Bicycles 3
  • Buses 4
  • Motorcycles 5
  • Ships 6
  • Trailers 7
  • Sterling Streamliner diners 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Before World War II


DRG Class SVT 137 Flying Hamburger at Leipzig main station
Mallard, a streamlined LNER class A4 pacific, the world's fastest steam locomotive

The first high-speed streamliner in Germany was the "Schienenzeppelin", an experimental propeller driven single car, built 1930. On 21 June 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. The Schienenzeppelin made 180 km/h (112 mph) in 1933.

The Schienenzeppelin led to the construction of the diesel-electric DRG Class SVT 877 "Flying Hamburger". This two-car train set had 98 seats and a top speed of 160 km/h (99 mph). During regular service starting on 15 May 1933, this train ran the 286 kilometres (178 mi) 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 22 August 1939.

In 1935 Henschel & Son a major manufacture of steam locomotives was able to upgrade its various steam locomotives to a high speed Streamliner type with a maximum speeds of up to 85 km/h (53 mph) by the addition of a removable shell over the old steam locomotive. The type was used on the Frankfort and Main and Berlin route.[1]

In the United Kingdom development of streamlined passenger services began in 1934 with the Great Western Railway introducing relatively low speed streamlined railcars 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 126 mph (203 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 6 December 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-kilometre (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). That year the similar electric Materieel 40 were first built.

In Czechoslovakia in 1934 Czechoslovak State Railways ordered two motor railcars with maximum speed 130 km/h (81 mph). The order was received by Tatra company, which was producing first streamlined mass-produced automobile Tatra 77 in that time. The railcar project was led by Tatra chief designer Hans Ledwinka and received streamlined design. Both ČSD Class M 290.0 were delivered in 1936 with desired 130 km/h (81 mph) maximum speed, although during test runs one car reached 148 km/h (92 mph) mark. They were run on Czechoslovak prominent route Prague-Bratislava under Slovenská strela (Slovak for "Slovak Arrow") brand.

United States

The Santa Fe's Streamliner locomotives circa 1938
4-6-2 "President"-class steam locomotive on B&O's New YorkWashington, D.C. Royal Blue in 1937

Facing a catastrophic loss of business during the Great Depression, American railroads cast their eyes on streamlined trains of lightweight material, streamlined to gain speed, and using an internal combustion diesel engine rather than steam.[2] 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 due to an advanced design incorporating a diesel-electric power system; 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 for the run cost US$14.64 (at 4¢ per U.S. gallon).

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

A variety of Zephyrs were 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 carrying twins as passengers. Within a few years, the trains were replaced with a slightly different design, and the original trains went to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.

The Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad Rebel trains were lightweight and streamlined, but not articulated. Designed by Otto Kuhler, diesel-electrics built by American Car and Foundry Company were placed into service July 10, 1935.

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 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. The first steam streamliner locomotive was the New York Central's Commodore Vanderbilt.[3] Nonetheless, some of these steam locomotives became very fast—some were said to exceed 120 mph (193 km/h) on a regular basis. 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-built 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.


Japanese Governmental Railways class C53 No.43 streamlined locomotive

The trend of streamliners also hit Japan. In 1934, Ministry of Railways (Japanese Government Railways, JGR) decided to convert one of its 3-cylinder steam locomotives class C53 into streamlined style. The selected locomotive was No.43 of class C53. However Hideo Shima, the chief engineer of the conversion, thought streamlining had no practical effect on reducing air resistance, because Japanese trains at that time did not exceed maximum speed of 100 km/h (62 mph). Therefore, he designed the locomotive to create air flow that lifted exhaust smoke away from the locomotive. He had expected no practical effect on reducing air resistance completely, therefore he never tried to test fuel consumption or tractive force of the converted locomotive.[4] The Japanese government planned to use this one converted streamline locomotive on the passenger express route between Osaka and Nagoya.[5]

The converted locomotive gained much popularity from the public. So JGR decided to build 21 new streamlined versions of the (Japanese)class C55 locomotive. Also JGR built 3 streamlined class EF55 electric locomotives. Kiha-43000 diesel multiple units and Moha-52 electric multiple units also got streamlined style. South Manchuria Railway under Japanese control at that time also designed Pashina type streamlined locomotive and operated Asia Express, which had total coordinated style with Pashina locomotive.[4]

These streamlined steam locomotives took many man hours to repair due to its casing. After the outbreak of WW2, the lack of an experienced labor force made the problems worse. Finally, the casings were removed and these locomotives were used with a miserable appearance.[4]

Streamliners after World War II

United States

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 restricted to speeds of 79 mph (127 km/h) or below unless automatic train stop, automatic train control, or cab signalling was installed.[6] Government regulations forced 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. 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, D.C. 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 went to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. The M-10000 was scrapped, along with many other early trainsets. It was retired in 1942 and its Duralumin skin was recycled for military aircraft. The Flying Yankee, the third streamliner to be completed, is 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 World War II. In Germany, the DRG Class SVT 137 were used again, but at lower speed. Based on the Kruckenberg SVT 137 the 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 18.16 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 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 used pre-war trains and FS developed new trains such as 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 WWII. During the war the LNER and LMS streamlined locomotives had part of their streamlining removed to aid maintenance. By the late 1940s and early 1950s the state of the railways was improving as war damage and delayed maintenance work cleared more mainline track for high speed running.

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 marginally successful and ran little faster than mainstream services. The Blue Pullman was followed by research 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.


Odakyu designed series 3000 using wind tunnel
Odakyu 3000 affected design of the first Shinkansen 0 series

After WW2, Japanese railroads favored multiple unit type trains, even on its mainlines. In 1949, Japanese National Railways (JNR) released Series 80 EMUs which were used for long distance trains for the first time as multiple unit trains. The lead coaches of Series 80 EMUs built after 1950 incorporated a streamlined design. In 1957, Odakyu Electric Railway released 3000 series EMUs. The exterior design was developed using a wind tunnel intended for aircraft. Odakyu 3000 marked the world speed record at the time (145 km/h) for a narrow gauge train. Multiple Unit trains were now proven suitable for long distance trains by the JNR Series 80 and for high speed trains by the Odakyu 3000. These experiences led to the development of the first shinkansen, the 0 Series. 0 series were strongly influenced by the Odakyu 3000, and also developed using a wind tunnel. The lead coaches of the 0 series were developed using a Douglas DC-8 for a reference. At a speed of 200 km/h, the aerodynamic style of the 0 series had a substantial effect on reducing air resistance.[7][8]

High speed train services today

Worldwide many, if not most, high speed passenger trains are now streamlined, and speeds continue to rise as high-speed rail services become the normal long distance rail service.

Specific trainsets


Early versions of the PCC streetcars were referred to as Streamliners' in North America.


1913 A.L.F.A 40/60 HP prototype (Alfa Romeo)
1949 Tatra inspired by the Chrysler Airflow

Many engineers tried to incorporate aerodynamics into the shape of cars in the 1920s, and some entered production. First such automobile (a prototype) to have a tear-drop shape and have the wheels within the body was the Persu automobile[9] (1922), with a drag coefficient of 0.22, built by Romanian engineer Aurel Persu.

Production vehicles

Despite its smooth curves, the original Volkswagen Beetle has a Cd of 0.48, which is similar to many trucks and SUVs. On the other hand, many aerodynamic styling features are the result of feedback from aerodynamic optimization by testing in wind tunnels and nowadays, computer modeling. Such features include the teardrop blunt nose and tapered trailing body, rounded corners, smooth body transitions (such as hood-to-windshield and windshields-to-roof, as in Kammback designs), rear wheel skirts, and removal of protruding features (integrated headlamps, hood ornaments, rear-view mirrors).

Land speed racing


Internal combustion

Jet and rocket


Bicycle fairings help to streamline the vehicle and rider. Velomobiles, completely enclosed bicycles or tricycles, take streamlining even further. It is streamliner bicycles that have set many HPV land records.[10]


Many buses adopted a stylish streamline look in the 1930s[11] with tests showing that streamlined design reduced fuel costs.[12]


Outright motorcycle land-speed record-breaking streamliners:


Ferry Kalakala

Streamlining was applied to the art deco style auto/passenger ferry Kalakala in the 1930s. The Kalakala operated until 1967 and was scrapped early in 2015.


Airstream trailer

Camping (caravan) trailer manufacturers used streamlining to make trailers easier to tow. Current and past manufactures include Airstream, Avalon, Avion, Boles Aero, Bonair Oxygen, Curtis Wright, Silver Streak, Spartan, Streamline, and Vagabond.

Sterling Streamliner diners

Inspired by the streamlined trains, and especially the Burlington Zephyr, Roland Stickney designed a diner in the shape of a streamlined train called the Sterling Streamliner in 1939.[13] Built by J.B. Judkins, a firm that also made custom car bodies,[14] the Sterling and other diner production ceased in 1942 at the beginning on American involvement in World War II.

Two Sterling Streamliners remain in operation: the Salem Diner at its original location in Salem, Massachusetts and the Modern Diner in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Another Sterling Streamliner lies abandoned on Hix Bridge Road in Westport, Massachusetts.


  1. ^ "Locomotive with Streamline Shell is Designed for Speed". Popular Mechanics 64 (4): 541. October 1935. Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  2. ^ "American Experience: Streamliners (Transcript)". 2000. Retrieved 2010-08-07. 
  3. ^ "Streamline Steam Engine Attains High Speed". Popular Mechanics 63 (2): 122. February 1935. Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Shima, Hideo; Takada, Takao; Yoshimura, Mitsuo (January 1984). "Three-way conversation on streamlined era". The Railway Pictorial (in Japanese) (426): 10–15. 
  5. ^ "Fast Express Train in Japan Hauled by Streamline Engine". Popular Mechanics 65 (4): 551. April 1936. Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  6. ^ "Ask Trains from November 2008". Trains Magazine. December 23, 2008. Retrieved December 29, 2009. 
  7. ^ Yoshio Ubukata, "50 years of streamlined EMUs and DMUs in Japan" The Railway Pictorial No.426 (January 1984) pp.16 - 22 Denkisha Kenkyukai (in Japanese)
  8. ^ Shinichi Tanaka, "Streamlined style of Shinkansen rolling stocks" The Railway Pictorial No.426 (January 1984) pp.29 - 31 Denkisha Kenkyukai (in Japanese)
  9. ^ "Streamline power vehicle". European Patent Office. 
  10. ^ International Human Powered Vehicle Association Retrieved on Dec 31, 2012
  11. ^ "Streamline bus is like a dirigible on wheels". Popular Mechanics: 487. April 1935. Retrieved 2010-08-07. 
  12. ^ "Wind-tunnel tests show streamline bus saves fuel". Popular Mechanics: 185. August 1936. Retrieved 2010-08-07. 
  13. ^ Witzel, Michael Karl (2006). The American Diner. MBI Publishing. pp. 76–78.  
  14. ^ "1939 Sterling Diner". Antique Car Investments. Retrieved 2010-08-07. 


  • Streamliners: America's Lost Trains — The American Experience

External links

  • Pioneer Zephyr at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
  • The Lost Promise of the American Railroad. at the Wayback Machine (archived June 14, 2001) The Wilson Quarterly (on the Internet Archive)
  • Streamlined Transportation in the Art Deco Era — Streamlining in the Cars, Trains and Planes of the 1930s.
  • Streamlined Locomotives of the Swing Era
  • , October 1934Popular Mechanics"Driver's Cab is Placed at Front of Streamlined Engine" bottom page 560
  • Streamlined Bonair Oxygen trailer
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