Here in 21st century America, train travel isn't seen as very futuristic. But in the years after World War II, trains were right up there with airplanes as the coolest in luxurious transportation of tomorrow. And in 1947 Americans got a peek at what was promised to be their train-bound future.

It was called the Train of Tomorrow, first conceived by General Motors in 1944 simply as a scale model promotional tool. But after the war, people working on the project were excited enough that GM contracted with Pullman to actually build it. The train went out on a 28-month tour of the U.S. and Canada and became a symbol of postwar promises for the future of getting around. Nearly 6 million people walked through the train as it toured, though a much smaller group got to actually travel on it.


The website Streamliner Memories has uploaded a fantastic color brochure of the train from 1947. Many of the images below come from that brochure.

[Update: This post originally contained four black-and-white General Motors photos scanned from Train of Tomorrow by Ric Morgan. Those photos have been removed and replaced with identical photos from other sources such as Domeliners: Yesterday's Trains of Tomorrow by Karl Zimmermann and The American Railway Passenger Car Parts I and II by John H. White Jr.]

The GM Train of Tomorrow had a brief existence touring North America and most of the cars that comprised it sat dormant after 1950, until they were finally sold off for scrap in the mid 1960s. But thanks to the magic of internet™ we can get a taste of what it must've been like to ride the train of the future.

Let's tour the train, shall we?

The Astra Dome

The most impressive feature of the Train of Tomorrow was the Astra Dome. The desire to let passengers view the passing scenery with minimal obstruction is what inspired GM mangers to conceive of the train in the first place. It allowed passengers the most fantastic views, giving a perspective of the American landscape that most people had never seen before.

From the 1947 promotional booklet:

One of the many innovations on this train is the Astra Dome — a streamlined, thermopane, glass-enclosed penthouse built into the roof of every car. In it railroad passengers are afforded a sunlit or starlit view in every direction. Eye level is above ordinary car roof height. Laminated glass, the safety of which was proved in the windshields of thousands of bullet-swept warplanes, is used throughout.

Sky View dining car

Everybody needs to eat. And in the Train of Tomorrow they did it in style.

From the 1947 promotional booklet:

This car provides table seating for 18 passengers in the Astra Dome, 24 in the main dining room and 10 more in the private dining room on the lower deck. Tables are uniquely arranged to afford more "moving around" room for everybody, including waiters. The Astra Dome offers all the advantages of roof garden dining — fine food, glamorous atmosphere, superb view. Refrigeration for food, air conditioning and water cooling are completely electric.

The Star Dust chair car

There really wasn't a bad seat in the house. Even the most dense seating on the train had comfy reclining seats. That guy in the green tie sure looks happy, doesn't he? And I know that promotional illustrations can't lie.

From the 1947 promotional booklet:

This ultramodern chair car accommodates 72 persons in complete comfort. It is equipped with gloriously restful reclining seats, individually lighted. The three rooms under the Astra Dome are semi-private, ideal for family traveling. Spacious overhead luggage racks, rubber flooring under seats and heavily aisles complete the picture of travel luxury at moderate cost.

Dream Cloud sleeping car

The sleeping cars provided relatively spacious accommodations, with some beds that folded out from a couch, and others that folded from the wall.

From the 1947 promotional booklet:

The luxurious sleeper car, accommodating 20 passengers, includes three compartments underneath the Astra Dome, two drawing rooms at the forward end, and 8 duplex roomettes at the rear. They are furnished with such comforts of home as full-length wardrobes and mirrors. Matchless daytime comfort is provided, too, by full size lounges, restful chairs, and the space to enjoy them in privacy.

Moon Glow observation car

The Train of Tomorrow also had incredibly glamorous lounges where people could enjoy a cocktail or just read the newspaper.

From the 1947 promotional booklet:

A car for your leisure hours en route. Nothing has been overlooked that might contribute toward your enjoyment of the trip. The observation compartment in the rear affords a magnificent view of the swiftly changing landscape, through wide picture windows. There are two cocktail lounges, furnished much like their counterparts in the smart supper clubs and hotels. A writing desk occupies a semi-private nook; telephone services is available to your home or business.

Images: Train of tomorrow dining room and cutaway illustration of the train scanned from the 1990 book The American Design Adventure; Color illustrations from the GM Train of Tomorrow brochure via Streamliner Memories; First black and white photo via The American Railway Passenger Car Parts I and II by John H. White Jr.; Three black and white photos of dining car and lounge scanned from Domeliners: Yesterday's Trains of Tomorrow by Karl Zimmermann