"Train Of Tomorrow" (General Motors)

Published: May 10, 2023

By: Adam Burns

The "Train of Tomorrow" was a General Motors concept trainset, built in conjunction with Pullman-Standard, intended to showcase the latest in rail travel luxuries and accommodations in the post-World War II era.  The train's prominent feature was its four, Pullman-built "Astra-Domes."

These cars were not an entirely new concept as the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy had already been operating its Vista Domes for a few years by the time the "Train of Tomorrow" debuted in the spring of 1947. 

However, their barnstorming tour around the nation and great publicity convinced railroads to invest heavily in the dome car concept to retain, and grow, ridership.  Through the latter 1950s there were a several iterations of the dome car manufactured, especially for western railroads.

In 1950, the entire trainset, led by an E7A, was purchased by Union Pacific, a railroad that fully embraced the dome.  The train subsequently went to work in the Pacific Northwest for nearly a decade until the four cars were slowly retired in the early 1940s.  Today, one of the four survives, Moon Glow, as well as the E7A.


70295talop92xc618800456cds.jpgIn 1947 General Motors ordered four domes (the "Moon Glow" lounge, "Sky View" diner, "Star Dust" coach, and "Dream Cloud" sleeper) from Pullman for a new publicity train known as the "Train Of Tomorrow." The idea was meant to showcase the latest in rail travel accommodations following the war. After touring cross-country the equipment was purchased by Union Pacific. Today, "Moon Glow" is the only surviving piece from the consist (the other cars were scrapped in the 1960s and E7A #765, renumbered as 988 under UP, was traded-in to EMD in 1963 for E9A #912).


As the nation settled into peacetime, railroads remained hopeful rail travel would remain strong following the record-breaking passenger miles experienced during World War II.  In his book, "America's Fighting Railroads," author Don DeNevi notes the industry's peak year during the war was 1942 when it handled 53 billion passenger miles alone (this figure is derived from the total number of passengers multiplied by distance carried).

While troop trains could partially explain such astronomical numbers, they still only accounted for 2 million passenger miles monthly in 1942.  Another reason - aside from the travel demands inherently during such a global conflict - was the relatively new streamliner concept that had swept the nation in the mid-1930s.

Prior to the United States' involvement in the war, many of the large Class 1 railroads began experimenting with early streamliners following the successful demonstrations of Union Pacific's M-10000 and Burlington's Pioneer Zephyr.  Both of these railroads quickly put entire fleets of semi-articulated trainsets into service while other railroads launched their own; names like the Hiawatha, Mercury, Comet, and Silver Meteor.

In his book, "Streamliners: Locomotives And Trains In The Age Of Speed And Tyle," author Brian Solomon notes Southern Pacific's early Daylights of 1937 carried some 62,899 passengers during its first three months in service, average an incredible 342 passengers daily in each direction.  By the end of 1937, the Daylights were carrying the greatest number of passengers in the nation for a single-section train.


Other railroads were experiencing similarly strong numbers with their early streamliners.  The trains were colorful, first-class, and fast; a stark contrast to the often dull, outwardly dirty, and utilitarian consists which defined early 20th century rail travel. 

After the war, the next big thing in rail travel was the dome car.  It is said the idea was conceived by Vice President of Electro-Motive Cyrus R. Osborne. 

In their book, "Streamliners: History Of A Railroad Icon," authors Mike Schafer and Joe Welsh note that while riding in the cab of a Rio Grande FT at the head-end of a freight train passing through Colorado's Glenwood Canyon in 1944, Osborne stated how wonderful such a view would be from a passenger car that afforded guests an unparalleled, 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape.

He also believed there would be great demand for such an accommodation.  After arriving in Salt Lake City, Osborn drew a rough sketch of a car featuring an upper-level dome solarium.  He then showed his concept to top management at General Motors and friend Ralph Budd, president of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.

Both Budd and GM were impressed and excited about the idea and Burlington shop forces in Aurora, Illinois wasted little time in fabricating a prototype.  Using a Budd-built stainless-steel coach originally constructed in 1940 for the Ak-Sar-Ben Zephyr, the "Vista-Dome" dome-coach Silver Alchemy emerged from Aurora in June, 1945.  The CB&Q fielded the car throughout its Zephyr fleet and it was an immediate hit with the public.  The Burlington instantly ordered a fleet of 40 Vista Domes from Budd.


Next, General Motors conceived a post World War II streamliner prototype to showcase its latest passenger diesel leading a short train of dome cars in an effort to convince the public that railroads remained the best method of intercity travel.   Thus was born the "Train of Tomorrow."

However, as Brian Solomon notes in his book, "Streamliners: Locomotives And Trains In The Age Of Speed And Style," GM had no interest in building such a concept itself, or even entering the passenger car business.  Instead, it teamed up with Pullman-Standard which signed on to construct the cars.  In what were dubbed "Astra Domes," Pullman built for cars featuring different configurations, a standard coach, a full diner, sleeper, and finally an observation lounge.

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