Wednesday, September 27

This was the Mercury, the amazing retro-futuristic train that circulated through the streets of New York for 23 years

The Mercury was a true work of art on rails that was able to challenge the traditional railway industry in the United States between the 30s and 60s of the 20th century. Marketed as “the train of tomorrow”, had a set of unique features that set it apart from the other units in circulation at the time. It was an imposing, retro-futuristic look, inherited from the Streamline Moderne offshoot of Art Deco design, sleek and colorful interiors, sealed windows, indirect lighting, and new air conditioning technology.

The origins of the train took place in a rather complex time. In the midst of the Great Depression, the New York Central Railroad wanted to improve its passenger service to the American Midwest, with a vehicle focused on speed and innovation, but without spending too much money. Designer Henry Dreyfuss was commissioned to design the Mercury. Officials were delighted with the work and were quick to approve the plans. However, when it came time for the bidding, the project was abruptly cancelled.

A modern train, with parts of old trains

Due to the delicate economic situation, the New York Central Railroad was not willing to spend an enormous amount of money on such an ambitious train. “It was a shock when I got the bad news,” said Dreyfuss, who decided not to settle for that response and proposed using some of the fleet’s cars that were in disuse and that were stored in the warehouses. Those responsible for the project reconsidered their decision and gave the green light for the construction of the Mercury, which ended up becoming a whole fleet of trains.

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The new train in New York had a futuristic appearance. The locomotive, in addition to its streamlined design, had very striking aspects, for example, the wheels and driving rods were exposed and illuminated by lights, allowing this powerful machine to be seen in full operation, even at night. The wagons, meanwhile, were medium gray with brushed aluminum trim. It was powered by a steam engine and could reach a 160km/h top speedalthough it was limited to 130 km/h for trips with passengers.

Mercury 3 Train

Despite the budget limits, the Mercury offered a luxurious interior, with different sectors: the lobby, which was the only circular space, the dining room, the smoking room, the passenger room and the observation room. In the latter, instead of having the seats around the walls, facing inwards, she placed the seats in the center, facing the windows. She also put on a speedometer that reminded passengers how fast the train was going.

Mercury 4 Train

The first train of this family, which made a trip between Cleveland and Detroit, began operating on June 25, 1936. Later a service between Chicago and Detroit, and another between Cincinnati and Detroit, came into operation. The Mercury series of trains grew outdated over the years and were gradually replaced with more modern trains. The last survivor was the original Mercury, which saw its last service on July 11, 1959.

Images | Patty Allison | Wikimedia Commons

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