• California Zephyr or Super Chief

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by NJTRailfan
If Amtrak were able to secure the funding along with original equipment which train would you like to see come back; Super Chief or California Zephyr and why? Which one is the better train?

  by Gilbert B Norman
Be sure to note my most recent posting to Consists over at Rail Travel Forum.

Having ridden both during the 60's, allow me to note the Zephyr was a great train, but the Super.....well, the name says it all.

Super gets my vote.

  by prr60
California Zephyr verses Super Chief. It is a little bit apples and oranges, or at least, tangerines and oranges. The Super Chief was an all-sleeping car train, similar to the Broadway Limited and the Twentieth Century Limited. It's purpose was transportation. Speed was primary. Sightseeing was secondary. To the bitter end it competed for those who wanted to travel between Chicago and Los Angeles and tried to offer a product to offset the speed of air travel with comfort and style.

The California Zephyr was a different type of train. It was strongly targeted at the family vacation market and coach travel. The route was chosen and the schedule timed for sightseeing. The fact that it was among the slowest Chicago to west coast trains was not an issue. The California Zephyr passenger was not likely a person who was going to fly anyway, so they did not care about the speed. A huge selling point was the dome-coaches that had 24 dome seats for about 46 coach passengers. That is what sold my family on the train and spurred our trip in 1963.

Of course, replicating either is virtually impossible today. Many of cars that remain have been so drastically altered that a truly functional trainset would be very difficult to form. I would love to see the AOE do something like that with their equipment. Run a point-to-point train, coast to coast with no bus tours, lectures, or the other stuff that is part of the typical AOE trip. Just provide a first class travel and dining experience for three days and nights from New York to LA or San Francisco. Provide a 2006 version of 1950's train travel. I would ride that one.

  by Jishnu
I think a combination of Super Chief and El Capitan could be effectively marketed and run as a regular service even today. I suppose that is what Southwest Chief tries to be, but with all the onboard service reduction shenanigans of Amtrak it isn't quite working out that way.

  by John_Perkowski
Boy, y'all have it all wrong.


Everything else is a wannabe. Read my sig and you'll understand.
Last edited by John_Perkowski on Wed Apr 19, 2006 10:55 am, edited 1 time in total.

  by Gilbert B Norman
With one "bumper to Track 19 ride', about six other overnight rides, and more daytime rides over the MILW than I can count, I totally concur with Colonel Perkowski regarding the quality of the "City'.

I realize our younger Members around here are of one voice that the UP can't do anything right - including moving their own freight!. But it wasn't always that way and fortunately, I have that UP to remember.

If one wants a testament to the care UP could go with regards to a passenger movememt, dig out your file of 1968 TRAINS and in either the November or December issue, you will find an article regarding a Director's Special.

It is hard to believe than when I observe a UP SD-70 that is desecrating our flag with the grime (lest we note, UP has limited trackage rights over BNSF KCY-CHI), I think back to the days when UP meant "you paint'.
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Wed Apr 19, 2006 9:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
  by jp1822
Perhaps this will emerge with the new owner of the American Orient Express, that is Colorado Rail Car Co., but I really wish this country had a coast to coast train like VIA Rail's Canadian. Scenery, luxury, dining, great onboard staff and amenities. The route I would chose would be the Capitol Limited and CA Zephyr, just because it cross the middle of the country (Heartland), has the best scenery of the east-west trains, can accommodate bi-levels coast to coast, and serves the nation's capital.

I was watching a program the other night on dome cars and it mentioned how foreign diginitaries were often put on the CA Zephyr or other type of streamlined trains, as a way to "see" the country and become familiar with the USA.

Could this train turn a profit operating three days a week or varying frequency during the year? Colorado Rail Car Co. has some really great equipment it could use on this train. But would Amtrak kill them with "user fees"?

Warrington tried to launch such a service, but I think the equipment was just not there. You need a bi-level dome and cars that are really extraordinary from the norm.

  by Jishnu
Perhaps this will emerge with the new owner of the American Orient Express, that is Colorado Rail Car Co., but I really wish this country had a coast to coast train like VIA Rail's Canadian. Scenery, luxury, dining, great onboard staff and amenities.
But but.... VIA Rail's Canadian is not coast to coast. It is Toronto to coast. Amtrak has lots of Chicago to coast trains.

But your point is well taken. Just pointing out that Canada does not have one either.

  by CarterB
In today's world, were one or 'tother to be resurrected as originally run and equipped, I'd have to go with the Zephyr due solely to the 'time constraints' of today's world, and the fact that the Zephyr was by far the more scenic route. Of course I'd want it routed the original way too (WP thru Feather River Canyon)!!

  by NJTRailfan
I loved the dome on Super Chief because theres a dining area with lounge. The Domes on the CZ were pretty cool but all they were were just coaches. They would be popular if they had lounges as well. If the Super Chief had a dome obs like the CZ did they'd rake in even more passengers. The obs use for the Chief pailed in comparrison compared to the CZ.

  by LI Loco
Since I missed the streamliner era, I can only judge based on hearsay and what I've read. I'd agree with Mr. Norman that the Super Chief was probably the top transcontinental train, in part due to its all-Pullman status. However, my order from there would probably be City of Los Angeles, #2, Empire Builder, #3, CZ, #4 and North Coast Limited, #5. I can't say that this is based on any objective criteria, just impressions.

  by EastCleveland
To see how Encyclopaedia Britannica Films once handled this subject in a galaxy long ago and far away, take a look at The Passenger Train from 1955: "A young boy travels from Chicago, Illinois to Lamy, New Mexico via passenger train."

Strangely enough, the kid boards The Chief in Chicago, yet mysteriously steps off The Super Chief in New Mexico the following day.

Must have been the French Toast. You can watch his entire adventure here:



  by Gilbert B Norman
NJTRailfan wrote:I loved the dome on Super Chief because theres a dining area with lounge. The Domes on the CZ were pretty cool but all they were were just coaches. They would be popular if they had lounges as well.
To elaborate on Mr. NJT's thoughts, the Super Chief Pleasure Dome had a Dining room branded the Turquoise Room that was located in the short end ahead of the dome. This room could be reserved for parties of six (max seating 12); otherwise was simply used as overflow dining space.

It would appear to me it was a "female pup' for the crew to "work' as they had to navigate carrying trays of food between the diner and the Room - as I recall there was no automatic door arrangement.

The Pleasure Domes did see Amtrak service until Superliners were assigned to 3-4, I believe the Turquoise Room was even used during the Amtrak era on occasion.

Regarding the CZ Domes, three such were 46 seat 28 Dome seat Coaches - in short one non revenue seat for every 1.64 passengers - utterly absurd by today's standards. There were two domes for the five Pullman sleeping cars (111 pax) which made for a somewhat more rational dome seat for each 2.31 passengers. If that wasn't enough, there was a Coach Diner Lounge mid train (also crew dorm and Pullman Dome). Pullman passengers also had the Dome obs with lounge. Not even AOE offers that much non-revenue space; maybe a cruise ship does.

Lastly Mr. Loco, I give the North Coast Limited the edge over the Empire Builder - rode 'em both during the 60's. All I can say for the Builder, then and now, is "if you've seen one wheatfield, you've seen 'em all'.


  by John_Perkowski
It's July, 1967, we're homeward bound on the City of Saint Louis/City of Los Angeles. Breakfast was around Victorville.

Mom and I were in the dome of the dome diner.

UPs French Toast is still a good memory.

Yes, I love ATSF French Toast as well :)

  by CarterB
Many of above mentioned trains superior for sure............however....I believe the question was .....today.........which one might be 'best' if it could be resurrected as originally equipped. Given the time/distance factors...I would still think that the original CalZ would be the most feasible in today's world of "get there now as cheap as possible" or.........if I want a land cruise......I want the best scenery for my buck.

Now..........were we to not have time/$$$ pressures........surely the all-pullman Super Chief would qualify as would the 20th Century, Broadway Ltd. and several other extra fare trains.