In our series “Big Gear from The Old Days” we wrote about the Kharkovchanka (a ‘tank’ used by researchers to travel to the South Pole) and a smaller “Big One”, the legendary workhorse, the Lada Niva. Arctic transportation, a legendary car and now what? An airplane or a train?! Let’s try to tell you something about both!
Above: illustration depicting the SVL from 1971 in "TM Magazine", found on different websites, no other source available
The “High-speed Laboratory Railcar”
In 1970 researchers in the Soviet Union had ambitious plans to revolutionise its rail system with high-speed trains powered by jet engines. One such experiment was the SVL, or “High-speed Laboratory Railcar”, built by the Kalinin Carriage Works (now Tver Carriage Works). It was a standard ER22 railcar (electric-powered normally, built by the Latvian Riga Carriage Works) with a pair of Yakovlev Yak-40 (Яковлев Як-40) passenger jet engines mounted on its roof. It was run on the Golutvin – Ozery train-track, south of Moscow under the control of engineer Mikhail Nepryaev and aircraft mechanic Alexei Lozov. The SVL could reach speeds of around 250 kilometres per hour in tests; and some say the train had the potential to exceed 350 km/h on the right track. Check out more information about the Yakovlev Yak-40 on Wikipedia (link opens in new window).
Above: the Yak-40 Dvurekov-1 (Яковлев Як-40), picture by Igor Dvurekov
Ambitious but challenging…
Despite its impressive speed, the SVL faced several challenges, including stability issues, noise pollution, it was blowing away the gravel underneath the tracks… and try to think about the massive amount of fuel this thing used to reach those insane speeds. The ambitious project was put on hold in 1975, and the SVL was left to rust at the Doroshikha station in the Tver Region. The wagon nose with the jet engine was removed, painted, and later on installed as a commemorative object in honor of the 110th anniversary of the Tver Carriage Works in 2008.
Above: SVL prototype, source: Wired
Everyone needs a fast train, right?
The concept of fast and high-powered trains was not unique to the Soviet Union. The Germans produced the Schienenzeppelin (Rail Zeppelin) in the 1930s. A train powered by a BMW 12 cilinder engine, capable of reaching speeds above 200 km/h. In the 1960s, the American M-497 Black Beetle was built, reaching speeds of almost 300 km/h. The LIMRV, built in the 1970s (also in the United States), even set a world speed record of 411.5 km/h. However, these projects were also ultimately abandoned.
Above: monument at the rail-car factory in Tver depicting a Turbojet train, picture by Eskimozzz on Wikipedia
The SVL programme wasn’t all for nothing
Despite not becoming the first high-speed train in the USSR, the jet-propelled wagon became a source of valuable information about how trains would operate at extremely high speeds and was later used to build the high-speed passenger "Russian Troika" (PT200) cars. The motor-car electric train ER200 is a product of the research results as well. More information on the ER200 on this Wikipedia page (in Russian). The link opens in a new window.
To read more about this weird thing, utter “Big Gear from The Old Days”, there is a Wikipedia page on the SVL with more data, in Russian (the link opens in a new window).
We've got "train-stuff" right here!
Check out our alloy Coat of Arms from the 1970s. They hung these things on the outside of buildings and trains back then. We brought this back from our trip through Ukraine, just before the war started.