A streamliner is any vehicle that incorporates streamlining to produce a shape that provides less resistance to air. The term is most often applied to certain 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. The term was also applied to cars, but now car streamlining is so prevalent that it is not an outstanding characteristic. In land speed racing, it is a term applied to the long, slender, high-speed vehicles with enclosed wheels.

Streamlined trainsets

Streamliners before World War II

The first high-speed streamliner in Germany was the "Schienenzeppelin", an experimental propeller driven single car, built 1930. On June 21 1931 it set a speed record of Auto km/h|230.2|1 on a run between Berlin and Hamburg. In 1932 the propeller was removed and a hydraulic system installed. After that, the Schienenzeppelin made Auto km/h|180 in 1933. The Schienenzeppelin led to the construction of the diesel-electric DRG Class SVT 877 "Flying Hamburger". This 2-car train set had 98 seats and a top speed of Auto km/h|160. During regular service starting May 15 1933, this train ran the km to mi|286 distance between Hamburg and Berlin in 138 minutes with an average speed of Auto km/h|124.4|1. 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 Auto km/h|205 in 1936. The fastest regular service with SVT 137 was between Hannover and Hamm with an average speed of Auto km/h|132.2|1. This service lasted until August 22 1939.

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 December 6 1937 an ETR 200 made a top speed of Auto km/h|201 between Campoleone and Cisterna on the run Rome-Naples. In 1939 the ETR 212 even made Auto km/h|203. The km to mi|219 journeys from Bologna to Milan were made in 77 minutes, meaning an average of Auto km/h|171.

In The Netherlands Nederlandse Spoorwegen introduced the Materieel 34 (DE3) a three unit Auto km/h|140 streamlined diesel-electric trainset in 1934. An electric version, Materieel 36 went into service in 1936. From 1940 the "Dieselvijf" (DE5), a Auto km/h|160 top speed five unit diesel-electric trainset based on DE3, completed the Dutch streamliner fleet. During test runs, a DE5 ran Auto km/h|175. In the same year the similar electric Materieel 40 were first built.

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 because of a more advanced design incorporating a diesel-electric power system, while 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 Convert|112.5|mph|km/h|1|abbr=on and running an average speed of Convert|77.6|mph|km/h|1|abbr=on. The fuel cost for the run was US$14.64 (a mere 4¢ per gallon—if a similar run was made in 2004, it would cost more like $550-650.)

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

A wide variety of "Zephyrs" were eventually 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 loaded with, naturally, twins. Within a few years, they were replaced by other trains of a slightly different design and the original twin trains went on to serve elsewhere on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.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 also 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. Nonetheless, some of these steam locomotives still became very fast—some were said to exceed Convert|120|mph|km/h|0|abbr=on on a fairly regular basis around this time. Some famous 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-build 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.

Streamliners after World War II


Streamliners and successor high-speed train systems largely disappeared in the United States due to the increasing popularity of the automobile and airline travel. Government regulations forced all 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. Many argue that these regulations and 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 DC 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 convert|3000000|mi|km, the "Pioneer Zephyr" took up residence at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. The "M-10000" unfortunately found its way to the scrap heap, along with many other early trainsets. It was retired in 1942 and its Duralumin skin was recycled for military aircraft. Some have survived, though. The "Flying Yankee", the third streamliner to be completed, is currently undergoing restoration to operational condition. Its design is only slightly different from the first "Zephyr".


In Europe the streamliner tradition gained new life after the Second World War. In Germany, the DRG Class SVT 137 were used again, but at lower speed. Based on the Kruckenberg SVT 137 the famous 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 18.6 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 more than 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 also made use of the pre war trains and FS developed new trains like 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 war. During the war the LNER and LMS streamlined locomotives had part of their streamlining removed to aid maintenance while other streamline locomotives had the streamlining removed. By the late 1940s and early 1950s the state of the railways was improving as war damage and delayed maintenance work cleared more and 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 convert|90|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on luxury business services, but were never hugely successful and ran little faster than mainstream services. The Blue Pullman was followed by various research work into streamlined trains and tilting trains which led to the iconic Intercity 125 (Class 43) offering convert|125|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on train services across the United Kingdom.

High speed train services today

Throughout most of the world many if not most high speed passenger trains are now streamlined, and speeds have continued to rise as high-speed rail services become the normal long distance rail service.

Specific trainsets

Streamlined cars

Production vehicles

* Tatra T77
* Chrysler Airflow

Vehicles used for speed records

* Electric
** Buckeye Bullet
** Buckeye Bullet 2
** White Lightning
* Combustion
** Bluebird -
** Blue Flame
** Goldenrod
** JCB Dieselmax
* Thrust
** Thrust SSC

treamlined trailers

Camping (caravan) trailer manufacturers have also employed streamlining to make more easily towed trailers. Current and past manufactures have included: Airstream, Avalon, Bonair Oxygen.

treamlined water transport

Streamlining was applied to the art deco style auto/passenger ferry "Kalakala" in the 1930s.

External links

*" [ Pioneer Zephyr] " at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
* [ The Lost Promise of the American Railroad.] "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 Bonair Oxygen trailer]


* [ Streamliners: America's Lost Trains] – "The American Experience"

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