The Marlboro Train: The Biggest Promotion on Earth That Never Happened

Marlboro Train (2007) from Marty Otañez on Vimeo.

Philip Morris’ “Project Thunder” was public relations plan to construct and operate a wildly-luxurious, custom-built 20-car Marlboro train as a promotion for Marlboro cigarettes. The train was to consist entirely of double-decker cars and feature amenities such as a hot tub car, massage rooms and gambling. The train would stop at locations throughout the scenic southwestern U.S. and let passengers off to partake in iconically western activities like horseback riding, bicycling, river rafting, and paragliding. Philip Morris planned to give selected smokers the “trip of a lifetime” on a “deluxe train through Marlboro Country.”

The train was going to be used for only one season, from May-September 1996, at an estimated cost to Philip Morris of $44 million.

The train was built at tremendous expense to PM, but PM ultimately pulled the plug on the project very late as the train was close to completion. PM then ordered the train destroyed. The company made the rail car company workers who were manufacturing the train in Fort Collins, Colorado, sign nondisclosure agreements that forced them to stay silent about the project and its ultimate demise.

Plans for Project Thunder can be viewed at this link at University of California San Francisco’s Legacy Tobacco Documents Library:

  5 comments for “The Marlboro Train: The Biggest Promotion on Earth That Never Happened

  1. My husband smokes & we were saving Marlboro miles & ordering merchandise from the catalog, etc. We were really hoping to ride on the train. Why was production stopped & the train destroyed?

  2. I actually have part of the Marlboro Train. My boyfriend at the time helped build the train. When it was destroyed he saved some of it and built me 2 bookshelves. Wonder if they’re worth anything?

    • Hi Kari, a couple of years ago the rail car manufacturer had a website where they were selling or auctioning off parts of the train, things like leather seats, drinking fountains and parts. It looked like stuff could be had pretty cheap. You had to go to some town in Nebraska to pick it up after purchasing it. Some Marlboro Train swag is still available on EBay, and it was quality stuff, like leather jackets and thick cotton duck duffle bags. At one point I had pewter ashtray from the train, but I’ve moved several times and have no idea where it is now.

      • I remember saving all those miles and filling out all the tickets for that! I must of filled out over a hundredI never knew what happened with that, oh well.

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