Mixing Up a Plane with a Train – Franz Kruckenberg’s Schienenzeppelin

Kruckenberg's Schienenzeppelin Image: Franz Jansen

Kruckenberg’s Schienenzeppelin Image: Franz Jansen

On 21 June 1931Franz Kruckenberg’s Schienenzeppelin (rail zeppelin) set a new world railway speed record of 230.2 km/h (143.0 mph) on the BerlinHamburg line between Karstädt and Dergenthin, which was not surpassed by any other rail vehicle until 1954.

How to build faster Trains?

The famous Schienenzeppelin was anticipated by the design of the Aerowagon, an experimental Russian high-speed railcar fitted with an aircraft engine and propeller traction invented by Valerian Abakovsky, a Soviet engineer from Latvia. It produced speeds of up to 140 kilometres per hour. The railcar from Germany was built in 1930 near Hannover by German aircraft engineer Franz Kruckenberg and finished in fall of the same year. It was about 15 m long and had two axles. Originally, the railcar had two conjoined BMW petrol aircraft engines powering a four bladed propeller. The body of the Schienenzeppelin was streamlined, having a great resemblance to the era’s popular Zeppelin airships, and it was built of aluminum in aircraft style to reduce weight.[3] The railcar could carry up to 40 passengers and its interior was designed in Bauhaus-style.[4] On May 10, 1931 the railcar reached speeds of 200 km/h for the first time and this achievement was reported across the German media immediately. The great success on June 21 was achieved with Kruckenberg steering the rail zeppelin himself and afterwards, the vehicle was displayed in Berlin.

The End came Faster than Anticipated…

In 1932 Kruckenberg began a new project with the rail car involving significant modifications. It was given a completely new front end while the rear axle remained as it was. The aircraft engine was still used, but the power transmission was hydraulic through two Föttinger Fluid Drives for both directions of travel. Also, a pointed fairing was installed in place of the propeller. Kruckenberg completed this design in November 1932. During test drives in 1933, the new railway reached speeds of 180 km/h. Even though, Kruckenberg’s designs never really went into ‘mass’ production, his designs found their way into later DRG railcar designs. His last version of the rail vehicle was produced in 1934 and it was sold to the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German Imperial Railway) and dismantled in in order to re-use its material for military purposes. In 1942, the company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin presented plans for four-storey so-called rail zeppelins as part of the broad-gauge railway designed by Adolf Hitler himself from May 1942 until the last days of the Second World War in 1945.

Considered Too Dangerous for Passengers

A disadvantage of the rail zeppelin was that it could only be used as a single vehicle and train formation was not possible. This meant that adjustments to different travel volumes were not possible. Its much higher speed also made it difficult to use the zeppelin on routes that were used by other trains at the same time. An auxiliary drive powered by batteries was necessary for shunting trips. Reversing was not possible at all with the fixed propeller, so the Rail Zeppelin was a one-way vehicle and required turntables or track triangles for turning. If these were not available, long and complicated turning trips were sometimes necessary. Safety critical for passengers on the platforms (also in passageways) and passers-by, for example at level crossings, were also the strong current of the propeller and the danger of stones being whirled up. These disadvantages were one of the reasons why the project did not progress beyond the experimental stage. However, the Russian Aerowagon as well as the German Schienenzeppelin were precursors to the American M-497 Black Beetle railcar and the Soviet turbojet train, all three of them being experimental vehicles featuring the combination of railcar and aircraft engine.

The famous Schienenzeppelin in Berlin Image: German Federal Archive

The famous Schienenzeppelin in Berlin Image: German Federal Archive

At yovisto academic video search, you may be interested in a historic video documentation on Kruckenberg’s Schienenzeppelin.

References and Further Reading:

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