The Propeller-Driven German Train Known as “The Rail Zeppelin”

by Paula Bosse

Developed in Germany in 1929 by Franz Kruckenberg, this streamlined aluminum locomotive — which had a propeller on the back and a BMW V12 engine under its hood (as it were) — was introduced in 1930. It got up to an impressive 143 mph in 1931 (setting the land speed record for a gasoline-powered locomotive), but this Schienenzeppelin (“Rail Zeppelin”) never made it beyond the prototype stage. When the Nazis came into power, the train was dismantled and, as WWII was looming on the horizon, it was presumably cannibalized for material to manufacture airplanes for the coming war.

See this odd Propellertriebwagen (“propeller railcar”) in action in the videos below, The first is from British Pathé and is in English — the other three are in German (it’s nice if you speak German when viewing them but it’s not necessary). …It’s pretty strange watching a train with a propeller on it.

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The two videos below offered extended documentary footage.

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This period German newsreel contains footage seen above — but it’s shorter and has a rousing musical accompaniment.

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Sources & Notes

Photo found in the i09 post “The Zeppelin Train, The Aerotrain, and Other Classic Streamlined Trains” by Vincze Miklós (April 18, 2014), here. (Definitely check out this post to see great photos of several fantastic trains!)

The Wikipedia page on Franz Kruckenberg is here; its page on the railcar itself is here.

I have an aesthetic appreciation of mechanics, engineering, and design, but my knowledge of trains and engines is minimal, so I highly encourage the seeking out of those more technologically knowledgeable than I who can intelligently discuss the how, when, where, and why of this Schienenzeppelin — for instance, the i09 article linked to this post (“Is It a Plane? Is It a Train? No, It’s a Prop-Driven V12 Locomotive!” by Peter Orosz, March 21, 1911) on the Jalopnik site.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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