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: http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/neg36e00