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Westbound California Zephyr in front of the Book Cliffs in Utah
|Service type||Inter-city rail|
|Locale||Western United States|
|Predecessor||San Francisco Zephyr/Rio Grande Zephyr|
|First service||April 24, 1983|
|Distance travelled||2,438 miles (3,924 km)|
|Train number(s)||5, 6|
|Rolling stock||Superliner sleepers and coaches|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Operating speed||55 mph (average, including stops)|
|Track owner(s)||UP and BNSF|
The California Zephyr is a passenger train operated by Amtrak between Chicago, Illinois, and Emeryville, California, through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. At 2,438 miles (3,924 km) it is Amtrak's longest route and one of the most scenic, with views of the upper Colorado River valley in the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada.
Before Amtrak, the California Zephyr (the CZ, or "Silver Lady") was a passenger train operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q), Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) and Western Pacific Railroad (WP). The CB&Q, D&RGW and WP named it "the most talked about train in America" on March 19, 1949, with the first departure the following day. It was scheduled to pass through the most spectacular scenery on its route in the daylight. The original train stopped in 1970, the D&RGW continuing to operate its own passenger service, the Rio Grande Zephyr, between Salt Lake City and Denver using the original equipment until 1983. Since 1983 the California Zephyr name has been applied to the Amtrak service, which operates daily and is a hybrid of the route of the original Zephyr and its former rival, the City of San Francisco.
The original California Zephyr
The original California Zephyr ran over the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad from Chicago to Denver, Colorado, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad between Denver and Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Western Pacific Railroad from Salt Lake City to Oakland, California. Cars owned by different railroads ran together; cars cycled in and out for service, repairs, and varying passenger loads with the seasons.
The first train was named in San Francisco by Eleanor Parker while California Lieutenant Governor Goodwin Knight, mayor of San Francisco Elmer Robinson, and WP President Harry A. Mitchell looked on. For the inaugural run in 1949, every female on the train was given "silver" and orange orchids flown from Hilo, Hawaii. The car hostesses were known as "Zephyrettes.":68
In summer 1954 the schedule for 2,532 miles Chicago to San Francisco was 50hr 50min. An eastbound California Zephyr through Ruby Canyon saw the train's first birth on March 1, 1955, when Reed Zars was born.
The Zephyr was not immune to falling passenger travel in the 1960s. The Western Pacific applied to discontinue its portion in 1966 but the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) refused after public outcry. The D&RGW made the same request in 1969 and in 1970 the ICC permitted Western Pacific to end its portion, provided the D&RGW and Burlington provide "some semblance of [service]" between Chicago and Ogden, Utah. The last westbound California Zephyr to the west coast left Chicago on March 22, 1970 and arrived in Oakland two days later. The California Zephyr had operated for 21 years and 2 days. East of Salt Lake City the train was reduced to a tri-weekly schedule, operating as California Service on the Burlington and as the Rio Grande Zephyr on the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande portion of the train was extended beyond Salt Lake to Ogden, Utah, allowing Nevada and California passengers to connect to the Southern Pacific Railroad's City of San Francisco. This continued until the creation of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.:69–70
The California Zephyr was marketed (especially to families) as "...a vacation unto itself." Train hostesses, while not new to the industry in the late 1940s, were elevated to a new level on the CZ in the form of the Zephyrette. Zephyrettes were social directors, tour guides, babysitters, nurses, any role to ensure passengers had a memorable trip. About 12 were assigned at any one time to the CZ. When Amtrak revived the California Zephyr in 1983 it invited a Zephyrette, Beulah Bauman, to host the first trip.
A pair of the Western Pacific's Budd Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs), replacements for the Royal Gorge (trains No. 1 and 2), picked up the name Zephyrette.:26 These were in service between September 17, 1950 and October 2, 1960
Amtrak intended to revive the California Zephyr as part its original route network in 1971, using the Burlington Northern east of Denver, the Rio Grande between Denver and Ogden, and the Southern Pacific west of Ogden, Utah. At the last minute Rio Grande refused to join Amtrak, fearing the new company's passenger trains would interfere with profitable freight traffic. This forced Amtrak on to the Union Pacific's Overland Route through southern Wyoming instead of Colorado. For a brief time, between the spring of 1971 and the summer of 1972, passengers traveling between Chicago and Oakland, would have to travel on two different trains, the Denver Zephyr, which operated daily between Chicago and Denver, and the City of San Francisco, which operated three times a week, between Denver and the San Francisco area. Eventually, however, after several false starts, Amtrak began operating a single train, dubbed the San Francisco Zephyr, homage to both the California Zephyr and the San Francisco Chief, between Chicago and Oakland. The Rio Grande continued to operate the Rio Grande Zephyr between Denver and Ogden.:136–137
In 1983 the D&RGW elected to join Amtrak, citing increasing losses in passenger operations. Amtrak re-routed the San Francisco Zephyr over the D&RGW's main line between Denver and Salt Lake City, Utah, its original preference from 1971. The change was scheduled for April 25, but a mudslide at Thistle, Utah closed the line and delayed the change until July 16. With the change of route, Amtrak reinstated the California Zephyr name. The modern California Zephyr uses the mostly the same route as the original east of Salt Lake City. However, the route in Nevada and California is essentially the route of the former City of San Francisco train. The California Zephyr operates on the former Western Pacific's Central Corridor from Salt Lake City west until central Nevada, changing to the former Southern Pacific's Overland Route by Winnemucca. As the two lines operate directional running across central Nevada, the spot the train switches lines depends on the direction of travel.
A small note in the July 2010 Trains said that this train is listed not only for route improvement, but to host a second route, the discontinued Desert Wind route. The following is what is listed for the Zephyr route:
- Possible Desert Wind extension, Salt Lake City-Los Angeles via Las Vegas, Nevada
- Possible equipment upgrades similar to that of the Empire Builder, possibly regardless if the first change is successful or not.
The westbound Zephyr was in collision with a semi truck on June 24, 2011, 70 miles (113 km) miles east of Reno, Nevada along US 95 near Interstate 80. Six died, including the truck driver and an Amtrak conductor, and dozens were injured. Fire destroyed two rail cars. Witnesses said the crossing gates were functioning and that the driver tried to stop.
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Leaving Chicago's Union Station the Willis Tower can be glimpsed as the train passes urban industrial zones and bricked residential streets, along with the 25 commuter stations used by Metra's BNSF Railway route. The Chicago suburbs are expansive but traversed within the first hour of the train's journey, stopping once in Naperville, Illinois.
Heading west from Chicago there are many small towns as the train crosses the great plains towards Denver. The Burlington Rail Bridge across the Mississippi River affords a view of Burlington, Iowa and marks the state line between Illinois and Iowa.
At Denver the California Zephyr departs BNSF Railway-owned track. From Denver west, the train runs along the Union Pacific Railroad's Central Corridor. The scenery changes dramatically departing Denver as the train climbs the Rocky Mountains. After going through the Tunnel District then crossing the Continental Divide via the Moffat Tunnel under James Peak, the tracks follow the Colorado River for several hours. Passengers can see the transition from a narrow, whitewater river (popular with rafters, who habitually moon the train as it passes) to a much wider stream past Glenwood Canyon and Interstate 70 toward Grand Junction. The train finally departs the now much larger Colorado River after exiting Ruby Canyon which is also where the train enters Utah.
In Utah the train follows the southern rim of the Book Cliffs to their end near Helper. The train then crosses the Wasatch Mountains, cresting at Soldier Summit. After passing the Wasatch the train arrives at the Wasatch Front where most of the population of Utah is located.
Once the train reaches Salt Lake City the train loosely follows Interstate 80 until the terminus of the train in California. Both the freeway and railroad pass along the south shore of the Great Salt Lake and across the Bonneville Salt Flats towards Nevada.
The Humboldt River provides the path across most of Nevada. However, before the train reaches the Humboldt river, it crosses through 2 mountain ranges, tunneling under the Pequop Mountains. The tracks cross the center of the Forty Mile Desert, on the other side of this desert valley is the Truckee River which provides the train's path to Reno and up the Sierra Nevada in California.
In California, the train crests the Sierra Nevada at Donner Pass and descends following a high ridge between the American and Yuba Rivers. Eventually, the California Zephyr reaches the lowland areas of the California Central Valley. The trip ends in Emeryville, a suburb of Oakland. From Emeryville the free Emery Go Round shuttle connects passengers to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, or a Thruway Motorcoach provides connecting service to downtown San Francisco (with sweeping city views along the way).
The original California Zephyr used the Feather River Route as its path through the Sierra Nevada. The rails are still in use for freight; however, anyone wishing to see this portion of the original route must now use State Route 70 which runs parallel to the old Western Pacific track.
The Budd Company manufactured six ten-car trainsets; three went to the Burlington, two to the Western Pacific and one to the Rio Grande. In line with the train's sightseeing schedule, each set included five of the new "Vista-Domes" (three coaches, a dormitory-lounge, and a dormitory-observation car). The California Zephyr was the first long-distance train to carry domes in regular service.:68 The Pennsylvania Railroad owned a single 10-roomette 6-double bedroom sleeping car, the Silver Rapids, which was used for through service to New York City.:220
The forward section of the first Vista-Dome car was partitioned off and reserved for women and children. There was a door in the corridor under the dome just behind the women's restroom to the reserved section. Early on, this reserved section was opened up to all passengers and the door and partitions were removed. Ownership of the cars was split between the three railroads almost evenly across all car types. Each car was owned by one railroad, but the ownership of the cars in any one day's train depended more on what was available at the terminals than whose railroad the train was operating over.
Generally positioned as the second Vista Dome coach was the car referred to as the "Conductor's Car". This car was like the other Vista Dome coaches, except in the B end, was a small booth with a bench seat and desk for the Conductor.
In 1952 another Pullman sleeper (6 double bedrooms - 5 compartments) was added to each consist. With the new cars delivered that year, cars arriving in Chicago on the California Zephyr were made available for use on the Ak-Sar-Ben Zephyr for an overnight round trip to Lincoln, Nebraska. When the cars returned from Lincoln the next day they were placed back in the westbound California Zephyr's consist for the next train out of Chicago that afternoon.:221; 225:140
The high quality Budd-built cars of the California Zephyr have proven to be popular with private car owners. Several operate in private charter service on Amtrak, including dome-observation car Silver Solarium,:155 dome-coach Silver Lariat, sleepers Silver Rapid and Silver Quail and a dome lounge now known as the Sierra Hotel.
Six museums currently hold equipment once used on the California Zephyr:
- the Illinois Railway Museum owns several Burlington locomotives that were used to pull the train on occasion.
- the Colorado Railroad Museum has two Rio Grande locomotives that also saw California Zephyr and later Rio Grande Zephyr service.
- the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Florida owns two former Western Pacific Railroad California Zephyr cars: baggage car Silver Stag and dome-observation car Silver Crescent.
- the Avon Park Depot Museum in Florida owns one former Western Pacific California Zephyr car: the "Silver Palm;" originally a sleeper car, it is now a buffet dining car that the museum uses for dinner parties. The car was converted to its buffet car state by the Auto-Train Corporation when they bought the car.
- the Austin Steam Train Association, which operates the Austin & Texas Central Railroad in the Hill Country between Cedar Park and Burnet, has completed its restoration of the Silver Pine. Originally a 16-section sleeper manufactured in 1948 by the Budd Company, the coach car re-entered revenue service in 2011 - for the first time since its Denver & Rio Grande Western days.
- the largest collection of preserved equipment can be found in Portola, California at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum. One locomotive and four cars are currently preserved there as part of the museum's "Zephyr Project" restoration program. Western Pacific 805-A is the last intact locomotive built specifically for the California Zephyr. The cars include dome-lounge Silver Hostel, dome coaches Silver Lodge and Silver Rifle (on long term loan from the Golden Gate Railroad Museum) and the Silver Plate, which is the last intact dining car left from the train's fleet.
A non-functional replica of the California Zephyr was at Disney California Adventure Park theme park in Anaheim, California. It was Baker's Field Bakery and Bur-r-r Bank ice cream counter cafes at the Sunshine Plaza main entrance. The exhibit closed on July 31, 2011, as part of a reconstruction. Disney gave it to the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, California.
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- Humbert, James E. "Railroading in the Feather River Canyon: Past, Present, and Future". Prototype Modeler: 21–27; 44.
- Sanders, Craig (2006). Amtrak in the Heartland. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34705-X. OCLC 61499942.
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- "Amtrak Trains Under the Microscope in 2010", Trains, July 2010, 20.
- Sonner, Scott (June 26, 2011). "Officials confirm 6 dead in Nevada Amtrak crash". Associated Press. Retrieved June 26, 2011.
- Stark, Lisa and Lauren Vance (June 26, 2011). "Amtrak Crash Death Toll Rises; Truck Driver Investigated". ABC News. Retrieved June 26, 2011.
- Brehm, Frank. "California Zephyr Consists". Western Pacific Online. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
- Wayner, Robert J., ed. (1972). Car Names, Numbers and Consists. New York: Wayner Publications. OCLC 8848690.
- Zimmermann, Karl (2004). Burlington's Zephyrs. Saint Paul, MN: MBI. ISBN 0760318565. OCLC 55676175.
- [dead link]
- Weiss, Werner (May 8, 2012). "Golden Gate Bridge at Yesterland". Yesterland. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to California Zephyr.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for California Zephyr.|
- Amtrak - California Zephyr
- California Zephyr Museum Online
- The California Zephyr, Legendary Passenger Train of the West