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How the 1970s Supertrain went off the rails

In 1979, Americans were shown the Supertrain: a nuclear-powered cross-country shuttle that boasted an on-board disco, swimming pool, cinema, and even a shopping centre. However, it was built not to carry people – but rather to entertain them through the medium of the small screen…

Despite expenditure of more than $5m – making it by far the most expensive TV show ever produced at the time – the Supertrain made only nine outings before hitting the buffers. It was intended to become a sort of ‘Love Boat’ on rails and, in the process, to provide NBC with a ticket to stratospheric ratings such as those being lapped up by rival ABC. But in reality, the concept was flawed, the storylines were suspect, and expenditure spiralled.

Heading for derailment

A full-size set was built; but equally expensive were the scale models, said to cost $250,000 apiece. During filming, one of the models was unintentionally crashed and had to be replaced – the resulting delays pushing costs up further. Ultimately, this frivolous spending led to not only the derailment of the show, but almost the NBC network as a whole. 

Photos: Gary Null/NBCU/Getty