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The “Michelines” – Where the Rubber Met the Road

  • Micheline
  • This Micheline prototype ​ran from Paris to Deauville averaging 107 k.p.h. (66.8 m.p.h.) on September 10, 1931 using Hispano-Suiza power

In the U.S., they were called railcars, railbuses or doodlebugs. Often created in a railroad’s own shops by ingenious crews who combined a car or truck driveline with an existing passenger or freight car, they provided economical service to less populated areas. But the purpose built units seen in our photos today raised the bar to a whole new level. While they are quite similar in appearance to some of their American counterparts, their use of rubber tires rather than conventional steel railroad wheels and superior speed mark significant differences.

  • Micheline2       Micheline3       Micheline4
  • L to R : Type 11 – Type 22 – Type 23 Michelines

The pneumatic railroad tire developed by Michelin offered a number of advantages over the traditional wheel type in this relatively lightweight application. Passengers experienced a smoother, quieter ride. Better traction resulted in faster acceleration, shorter braking distances and improved climbing ability on grades. Greatly reduced rail wear likewise resulted in reduced track maintenance costs. Downside factors included higher fuel consumption caused by increased drag and the possibility of flats.

Their increasing size and passenger capacity over the years attest to the merit of the initial concept. The Type 11, produced between 1932 and 1939, could propel 24 passengers at speeds up to 90 k.p.h. (56 m.p.h). Two Type 20’s were built in 1934. Orders for thirteen Type 21’s and thirty-seven Type 22’s followed. In service between 1936 and 1952, the big Type 23’s seated 96 and used a 400 horsepower Panhard flat opposed 12. 


The long term success of the Michelines can be said to have led directly to the use of rubber tires on many modern metro systems around the world including Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Tokyo, Kobe and Yokohama in Japan, Paris, Lyon and Marseilles in France and Mexico City. You’ll find more than fifty pages of other unusual subjects along with several “train cars” you can view here including a Pierce-Arrow, a 1933 Chrysler and a 1955 Buick on The Old Motor.

3 responses to “The “Michelines” – Where the Rubber Met the Road

  1. I had no idea there were rubber-wheeled rail rail lines in that period. Reminds me of my hope that some day we’ll have inter-urban rail service again. The trolley and tram idea was so much more efficient than individuals driving their cars on crowded highways these days.

    Tom M.

  2. And you are correct, whether interurbans are more efficient is intensely conditional. For me to drive the 60 mile round trip from this farm burg to do my shopping in the city once a month is far more efficient than twice a month, or most likely more, taking an interurban from here to the city, then when in the city spending most of the day trying to take busses/trams/taxis to the various locations, and then transport back to my burg the small amount which can be hand-carried.
    I can be gone and back in often less than four hours – once, for the month. And that is the most efficient way.
    On crowded metropolitan highways, it is one ballgame, out here in flyover country, it is quite another ballgame.

  3. This design – steel rails for guidance and rubber-tired drive system – is still used on stretches of the Paris and Montreal metros. Possibly other places.

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