Friday, May 25, 2018

R.I.P. Amtrak's Pacific Parlour diner/lounges

Recently I found out that Amtrak (a quasi-governmental agency, and America's passenger train operator) earlier this year discontinued the use of the five "Pacific Parlor Cars" on its California-to-Washington State "Coast Starlight" (which was named after a Southern Pacific streamliner from the early-to-mid twentieth century.

In early 2017 I had the pleasure of riding the Coast Starlight as part of my rail adventure from Washington DC to New Orleans, Santa Monica and Sacramento.  And I very much enjoyed my time on board the Starlight and its Pacific Parlour Car.

Fortunately I got a picture of the cover of the menu after I boarded...

Mandy said "A table with a view, please."   The host's response:  "Yes, Ma'am!"

 What a peaceful place to watch the sun set!

Deluxe was the word...

Now for some info about the design of Pacific Parlour - or Hi Level - cars.  From Wikipedia, Hi-Level is a type of bilevel intercity railroad passenger car.  The now-defunct Budd Company designed them in the early 1950s for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad for use on the El Capitan, a coach-only streamliner which ran daily between Los Angeles and Chicago. The design was inspired by two then-recent developments in passenger railroading: the dome car employed in intercity routes in the Western United States, and bilevel commuter cars operating in the Chicago area. Budd built 73 Hi-Level cars between 1952 and 1964.

Car types included coaches,  dining cars and lounges.   Most passenger spaces were on the upper level, which featured a row of windows on both sides. Boarding was on the lower level; passengers climbed up a center stairwell to access the upper level.  End doors on the upper level permitted passengers to walk between cars; some coaches had an additional stairwell at one end to allow access to single-level equipment. Santa Fe and Budd considered but never created a sleeper.

The first two prototype coaches entered service on the El Capitan in 1954 and were immediately successful.  Budd built sufficient coaches, dining cars, and lounge cars to fully equip the El Capitan, with additional coaches seeing use on the San Francisco Chief.   Amtrak inherited the entire fleet when it was formed in 1971, and continued to use the Hi-levels on its western routes.

Unfortunately, tunnel clearances restricted their use in the Eastern US, and that's why the current Superliners do not roam eastern rails.   In 1979, the first Superliners (based on the Hi-Level concept although built by Pullman Standard entered service. Amtrak gradually retired most of its Hi-Levels in the 1990s as more Superliners became available. Five lounges, outfitted with more luxurious interiors and designed to operate adjacent to Superliner sleepers and dubbed "Pacific Parlour Cars",  provided first-class lounge service as a special amenity on the Coast Starlight until their retirement in early 2018.

My own thought is:  They WILL be missed!



  1. Do you have a theory as to why they were discontinued. I suspect that it may have save a few bucks. Its a pity.

    1. They claimed it was because they were old cars (circa 1954) that they had high maintenance costs. Everything had been updated over the years (HVAC, HEP, lighting, etc.) so "to save a few bucks and a few positions" is as good a reason as any.

      The cars will be missed, as will the amenities themselves - unless they add a second, more modern lounge car for sleeper passengers only. Fat chance that will happen!