France’s Plane/Train Hybrid Was the Future of Travel Until High Speed Rail Killed It

France’s Plane/Train Hybrid Was the Future of Travel Until High Speed Rail Killed It

I’m a fan of public transport; it makes it easier and more economical for millions of people to travel around every day thanks to advances in trains and buses all around the world. But every now and then, I’m left hoping that mass transit could be that little bit better — say, by being jet powered and straight from a sci-fi comic.

Well that’s exactly the kind of mass transit system that France attempted to pioneer in the 1960s with the awesome plane/train hybrid that you see right here. The creation was called the Aérotrain, and it was first patented by engineer Jean Bertin way back in 1962, according to a report from British newspaper the Metro. As the site explains:

Early plans made the Aérotrain look fanciful. When lead engineer and designer Jean Bertin conceptualized the thing, it looked like something half-remembered from an old sci-fi comic. It was, after all, a wheelless train that levitated off the track and was capable of speeds of up to 270 mph. A fanciful idea indeed. Yet Bertin knew it was entirely possible.

The idea was simple enough, a purpose-built train carriage would speed along specially-designed tracks. However, instead of doing so under diesel power or even electricity, it would be powered along on its journey by a massive turbine engine strapped to the back.

What is this, a train for ants?

Bertin and his team set about prototyping the Aérotrain to prove its useability, and even managed to get a grant of 2 million French Francs, roughly $US3.5m in today’s money. They used this to build a half-size, working prototype that they showcased in the suburbs of Paris.

The prototype was amazing, it was all polished silver bodywork and vibrant flashes of red. At the back, there was a 260 hp aircraft engine, which proved to be enough to power the model onto a speed of 260 mph, reports Metro. It was all beginning to sound so promising for the Aérotrain and its developers were even awarded a contract to construct lines connecting Paris’ La Defence business district with the town of Cergy-Pontoise.

This or high speed rail, you decide.

However, disaster struck the Aérotrain when new president Valery Giscard d’Estaing took office and decided that funds were better spent on something called high speed rail. As such, the project was cancelled in 1974. Instead, the funds were used to develop France’s TGV high-speed rail network.

Now, the TGV network covers more than 1,675 miles across the country and carries trains at speeds above 180 mph. So while the funding was ultimately used for something good instead of the Aérotrain, it’s a shame the project never really got off the ground.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

It’s the most popular NBN speed in Australia for a reason. Here are the cheapest plans available.

At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.