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New York Central's M-497 Jet Powered Train

Illustration for article titled New York Centrals M-497 Jet Powered Train

We have no idea how this didn't pop up when researching France's Aérotrain but during the 1960's, New York Central was up to its own gee-whiz tricks in the form of the M-497 experimental. Searching for ways to attract passengers in the post-freeway era of dwindling train ridership, Central was investing in several projects, including high speed rail. One of the questions that hung over the prospect was the whether or not the existing rails could handle high speeds. To answer that question, they built a high speed train - on the cheap.


The build came in the form of a US Air Force surplus General Electric J47-19 jet engines in a B36-H bomber engine pod planted on the roof of a modified Budd commuter car with a custom made, fitted cowling. On a high speed test run between in 1966 between Butler, IN and Stryker, OH, the M-497 reached a top speed of 183.681 mph - still the current high speed record for light rail in the United States. With the rails proven capable of high speed transit, the experimental was dismantled and the M497 returned to civilian duty as an NYC commuter car, running the route between Poughkeepsie and Harmon for Metro North where it live until its sale to Conrail in May 1976. In an undignified end, the car was cannibalized for parts in Dec. 1977 and scrapped by Metro-North in 1984. We can't help but think the fate of this historical car draws a certain parallel to the past and future history of rail travel in the United States. {read more at American Heritage]

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And you have some major factual mistakes in this piece!

First it is Metro-North Railroad with a dash.

Metro-North was founded twenty-five years and not sold to Conrail instead it was created by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to run commuter trains because Conrail was mandated to get out of the commuter railroad business by law. Conrail was created in the 1976 out of the bankrupt shell of several northeastern railroads, including the Penn Central, which the New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1968.

We should know since we got a tour of Grand Central Terminal with Dan Brucker and wrote something about the anniversary exhibit at the Transit Museum Annex in GCT last week!