Tomorrows Trains Derailed

Travel Penn RR 1945 ad vintage illustration

Americas  train system has been derailed

The development of our rail transit has made little progress as we lag far behind the sophisticated passenger rail systems in Asia and Europe.

People complain about the trains in the U.S.

They’re not fast enough, they don’t go to convenient locations, they’re never on time, and many are just plain shoddy. As Thomas Friedman pointed out: “if all Americans could compare Berlins luxurious central train station today with the grimy decrepit Penn Station in NYC they would swear we were the ones who lost the war.”

On the fast track

In contrast to America, China has made a huge investment in their rail system.

In the closing week of 2012 China officially opened the worlds longest high-speed rail route linking its capital Beijing with the southern commercial hub of Guangzhou. The previously 22 hour journey traveling 1430 miles in length will now take less than 10 hours.

Tomorrows Trains Today

travel RR GM Diesel train 1945 vintage  Ad illustration train

There was a time however, when America was setting the pace for new railroads.

When it came to trains, post-war America was on the fast track.

Even before WWII ended, advertisements appeared laying it on thick about the grand future ahead for the American rail system. They would be part of the American Dream

“Yes, it’s a great new day for railroading-with even greater days ahead,” crowed one ad from GM Diesels.

“One thing is certain -America will have an entirely new level of transportation post-war. The amazing achievements of the railroads under the stress of war have made this possible.”

“American railroads are in a favored position to lead in this fine new service.”

Railroads and the American way

Railroads were the basic lifelines of this country. Nothing bespoke of the great American Way of capitalism and competition  than out great rail system.

General American Transportation patriotically pointed out to the reader in a 1945 advertisement:

“The American way of free enterprise, promotes a sound and vigorous growth in the railroad  industry- so that nearly 1,200,000 railroads have year-round employment keeping cars rolling- day and night , fine weather or foul. “

A Glimpse into the Future

travel RR 1940s ad Vintage trains passenger illustration

“Like to Ride on a train like this? asked this 1944 ad temptingly.

The Association of American Railroads offered war-weary citizens a glimpse into that cushy post-war future they could look forward to.

“It’s a day coach.”

“Looks pretty nice doesn’t it? And it is nice! Light, bright, roomy and comfortably air-conditioned.”

“Smooth riding at high speeds with pillow soft seats that fairly invite you to sink down and relax- wide windows that provide a sweeping view of the scenic landscape- and dozens of important little travel conveniences.”

“Where will you find such coaches as this?”

“Many of them were built before the war began and are now in use. Hundreds more had been planned but never built- you know the reason why. We haven’t been able to use scarce materials and man power to build trains as we’d like to have them.”

“There’s a war to win and we’re doing our level best to meet the nation’s wartime transportation needs.”

But once the war was won…watch out.

Tomorrows Trains Today

By 1946 ads began appearing offering glimpse of the post-war future.

Railroads were looking ahead, planning for better trains for tomorrow. Unheard of luxuries would abound. There would be trains with club cars that convert into theatres or night clubs, actual telephone service en route, coaches with lounge-car luxuries, childcare for children and sleeping quarters with the comforts of a good hotel.

Look What’s Coming in Americas New Trains!

travel RR Postwar new trains illustration ad 1946


Among the new wonders promised the post-war rail traveler in the very near future was a club car that miraculously converted into a rolling movie theater- a theater that traveled  90 miles an hour!

“By day,” the copy reads in this 1946 ad from the American Locomotive Company, “you’ll relax in a luxurious lounge. In the evening, you’ll sit back and watch a latest Hollywood release as you speed on your journey.”

“This is no dream, but one of the many new features of trains which are in production right now. Conveniences and comforts like special playrooms for children. Telephone service for passengers en route. Roomier, more comfortable sleeping quarters than you ever dreamed of.”

These improvements were all part of a modernization program estimated at $1,600,000,000- the greatest in the history of the American railroads.

“And,” the ad promised,” you’ll enjoy them not on some distant tomorrow, but as soon as the modern post-war trains hit the rails.”

Locomotives as Revolutionary as the Trains They pull.

“Many of Americas post-war trains will sweep down the tracks behind American Locomotive Diesel Electrics as advanced as the trains themselves, as revolutionary in design as the trains themselves.”

“The new line of Alco Diesel- Electrics take advantage of important wartime research. The turbo charged engines, mass-produced on a moving assembly line, pack more power in less weight than any other railway diesels.”

“These super locomotives are years ahead in speed, power smoothness and economy of operation.”

“When you board the new wonder trains powered by American Locomotive you’ll be riding behind the finest locomotives ever built.”

Picture Your Family in a Train Like This!

travel RR Postwar American  Locomotive ad 1940s vintage illustration train

Another amenity to be offered by trains was childcare- just in time for the boatload of baby boomers coming our way.

“One day soon you’ll board a brand new train with the kids- and every hour of the trip will be “The Children’s Hour,” explained to their reader in this 1946 ad

Mom and Dad could relax with their feet up in the comfort of their new Airfoam seats, since Kiddies were well supervised.

“Skilled attendants will entertain your youngsters in a wonder room made especially for children. There’ll be building blocks, story books, slippery slides, movies, games galore to keep their trip-and yours- from being tiresome.”

“Children’s playroom are just one of the new features of crack postwar trains which are now going into production.”

“This is not a blue-sky promise.”

The proliferation of automobiles, interstate highways and availability of air travel would eventually take the steam out of those modern  locomotives, and with it, that part of the American Dream.

Copyright (©) 2013 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved



  1. ericvery

    Reblogged this on Amalgamated and commented:
    Beautiful ads from the American Locomotive Company. A great peek into the golden age of rail travel. Intercity rail travel peaked in 1945, around the time these adds were created do to war time restrictions on fuel. No doubt a very optimistic time for Americas rail companies and the ads reflect this. However, by 1960, intercity bus travel had overtaken rail and it seems that rail travel in the US was for 50 years consigned to the history books.


  2. It’s a shame you don’t provide citations for the ads. And it’s a bit misleading for you to put your website url on the image without listing the original source. That being said, great post and great website.


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