This is the follow up to the Crystal Palace Gliding Railway feature. Following that demonstration this officially became the Barre Sliding Railway Company. The Sliding Railway Company launched investors’ bonds to show it was a serious contender for inter-urban transit. In order to tempt the US market, a line was proposed in Paris from Place Clichy to La Villette. Four miles long with three intermediate stations, it would carry 24,000 passengers an hour, an impressive number. Costs were about £8,000 a mile – a third of that for a normal railway.
Cheaper construction was the Sliding Railway’s trump card. Charles Barre’s company began setting up franchises in the United States and the first was to be a high speed link between Chicago and Milwaukee. The $5,000,000 project was to be managed by the American Automatic Sliding Railway Company, of which Philip Horvath, a business man from Twenty Fourth Street, Chicago, was promoter. Despite the Milwaukee plans falling through, Horvath secured a concession for Barre’s line at the Chicago World Columbian Exposition.
The Exposition line’s maximum speed was to be 125 miles per hour and acclaimed as the “transportation of tomorrow.” Despite some sources saying the line was never built, it was in fact constructed at Midway Plaisance. Others mistakenly assumed the line had been successful for example this from The World’s Columbian Exposition: The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893:
The trains’ skates needed over 3,500 litres of water. They had previously run on a track of no more than 500 feet long. The high speed Midway line was a mile long and used water consumption far in excess of previous trials. The full sized trains further exacerbated the problems that were encountered and insufficient workmen were available for the complex hydraulics.
It seems Charles Barre had somehow rashly assumed building a full scale intensive operational gliding railway system (based upon Girad’s smaller but successful prototypes) would be quite easy. From what we can see, it didn’t work. The engineering and the hydraulics was all wrong and besides the mere act of constructing the line, the enormous engineering task of upscaling the power requirements to reflect a full scale line were perhaps beyond Barre’s available finances and the time limits expected for it to be in readiness for the Chicago World Columbian Exposition. The line certainly attained exposition status being nothing more than a useless facility.
Huge amounts of energy was required to power the railway’s hydraulics and a bank of Heine boilers were purchased. Each was rated at 375 horsepower. These were installed near the Moorish Palace.
Four luxury coaches and a ‘locomotive’ (carrying the hydraulics) were built. The coaches were named after Chicago, Milwaukee, New York and St. Louis. Three stations were partially built. At one point safety concerns were expressed due to the height of the line’s trestles.
One news report says the line failed “because of defective management and lack of funds.” This ‘transportation of tomorrow’ stood a huge white elephant right throughout the Exposition. It was a huge embarrassment for Charles Barre. After the Exposition ended, the company’s property was confiscated and Barre’s concern liquidated. That was the end of his Sliding Railway. Sadly the episode too brought to a closure the excellent work done by Louis-Dominique Girard to build what was would have been a novel form of transportation.
Barre’s Sliding Railway from Ferris Wheel. Source Wikipedia.
Wikipedia’s picture shows the Barre line running diagonally across the top half. A partially built station can be seen where it meets 60th Street station. A better picture from Women Take Eden shows the railway and its huge trestle – which must have been a very expensive construct!
Barre’s viaduct & Ferris Wheel. The Moorish Palace at right. Source: Women take Eden.
There was just one other attempt to build a water based sliding railway. Charles Theryc submitted a 1909 patent with improvements to both Girard and Barre’s designs. No line was ever built. In 1997 a patent by Dutchman Bernardus Hijlkema (updated recently as 2012) proposes using liquid oxygen to help the trains slide. Hijlkema’s plans have never been put into practice.