This prototype, experimental air cushion vehicle cost $10 million to develop. Designed to ride on a cushion of air over a magnetic force track arrangement this trolley has the capability of carrying 60 passengers at 150 mph. Propelled by a pollution-free LIM (Linear Induction Motor) , it has air intakes which suggest a BEM (Bug-Eyed Monster)-a long-time denizen of science-fiction stories.
In the later half of the 1960's, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) sponsored aerospace companies to develop mass transit prototypes to meet growing transportation needs for urban areas. The UMTA also encouraged foreign competition to enter America's mass transit market because of the country's undercapacity to meet perceived future market needs.
In 1970, Rohr Industries, Inc. (with its aerospace division based in Chula Vista, California) chose to develop an Aerotrain for the project.
Jean Bertin, a French engineer who had already developed and tested the first Aerotrains in France during the 1960's, licensed his hovercraft technology to Rohr Industries, Inc. The aerospace engineers at Rohr made improvements to the French design and came up with a modern Aerotrain marvel of their own.
Their Aerotrain was a tracked air-cushion vehicle (TACV) designed for sixty passengers and could travel at 150 mph. This electric vehicle floated on air to provide a very smooth ride and was propelled by a linear induction motor (LIM) using a monorail for lateral guidance. When not hovering on air, the Aerotrain could rest on its skid rails or on retractable wheels for rolling on.
Rohr Industries, Inc.'s Aerotrain was competing at the time with Grumman Aerospace Corp.'s and Garrett Corp.'s vehicles for a contract bid with the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration (the U.S. Department of Transportation ended up taking over the bidding process) which was looking for a successful high-speed ground transportation (HSGT) system. Of the three, Rohr's was a finished design ready for commercial use. The other two HSGT vehicles were still in their experimental phase.
The oil crisis in 1973 would eventually make the Aerotrain very expensive to operate and the death of Jean Bertin (who owned the patents) in 1975 sealed the fate of any future Aerotrain development. And the fact that funding from the UMTA had ceased didn't much help things either. Soon after, TIME Magazine published an article on the fate of Rohr Industries, Inc.