Coast Daylight (SP train)

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SP 4449 standing idle under steam, waiting to start Christmas excursion, December 13, 2005.
Southern Pacific Coast Daylight route
Distance Station
0 San Francisco
30 mi (48 km) Palo Alto
47 mi (76 km) San Jose
114 mi (183 km) Salinas)
San Luis Obispo Tunnel
248 mi (399 km) San Luis Obispo
367 mi (591 km) Santa Barbara
404 mi (650 km) Oxnard
Santa Susana Pass
464 mi (747 km) Glendale
San Joaquin Daylight
470 mi (760 km) Los Angeles

Coast Daylight was a passenger train originally run by the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) between the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California, via SP's Coast Line. In the eyes of many the "most beautiful passenger train in the world," it featured a stunning red, orange, and black color scheme.


The Daylight circa 1937.
The Daylight on Horseshoe Curve.
The Tavern lounge car on the new train in 1937.

The Daylight Limited began in 1922 and became daily in 1923; by 1924 its schedule was 12 hours each way between San Francisco and Los Angeles Central Station. For the first few years it claimed to make no passenger stops en route, and it was the fastest SF-LA train— unusual for a train with no sleepers or parlor cars. One-way fare in the 1920s was $13.

The streamlined Daylight began on March 21, 1937, pulled by GS-2 steam locomotives on a 9 34-hour schedule. It was the first of the Daylight series that later included the San Joaquin Daylight, Shasta Daylight, Sacramento Daylight, and Sunbeam.

By 30 June 1939 the streamlined Daylights had carried 268.6 million passenger-miles on 781,141 train-miles for an average occupancy of 344 passengers.

The Coast Daylight ran behind steam until January 7, 1955, long after most streamliners had been powered by diesel. On May 1, 1971 Amtrak took over and rerouted their Coast Daylight to Oakland so it could continue north to Portland.

A second train, the Noon Daylight, ran the same route 1940-42 and 1946-49 with a suspension during World War II. The original Coast Daylight was known as the Morning Daylight during this time.

In 1949 the Noon Daylight was replaced by the overnight Starlight using the same equipment. In 1956 coaches from the Starlight were added to the all-Pullman Lark and the Starlight was discontinued in 1957. Amtrak later revived the name for its Los Angeles to Seattle service known as the Coast Starlight.

On August 26, 1999 the United States Postal Service issued 33¢ All Aboard! 20th Century American Trains commemorative stamps featuring five celebrated American passenger trains from the 1930s and 1940s. One of the stamps showed a GS-4 steam locomotive pulling the red-and-orange train along the California coast.

The train is the subject of the documentary, Daylight: The Most Beautiful Train in the World hosted by Michael Gross. The documentary shows early color images and color films from within the train and as it travels along its route. Passengers reminisce about their travels, about the coastal scenery, and about the amenities. The narrative is accompanied by collection of contemporaneous photographs and films, including personal black-and-white films showing life aboard the train.

The documentary covers 1937 to 1971, the period when the trains were owned and operated by the Southern Pacific Railroad. It begins with the train being ordered in 1935 in spite of the ongoing depression, entering service in 1937, operating through World War II, replacing steam locomotives with diesel power in the 1950s, and finally the demise of the train. After World War II declining revenues forced SP to cut costs.

One change was the elimination of the dining cars in the 1960s, replaced by Automat cars that offered food from vending machines instead of made-to-order meals in the dining cars, cutting the cost of the train's dining crew. This continued until 1971 when Amtrak took over and extended the route north to Portland and Seattle.

Amtrak has worked on plans for resuming Coast Daylight service from San Francisco to Los Angeles since the late 1990s. It may be merged with the existing Pacific Surfliner route, thus extending the line to San Diego. More specific plans have been made in the last few years, but any restoration of service would start in 2013 at the earliest.[1]

Equipment used[edit]

Passenger cars[edit]

A typical 1946 passenger car consist:

  • Baggage Chair Car Combine
  • Articulated Chair Car (Pair)
  • Articulated Chair Car (Pair)
  • Articulated Chair Car (Pair)
  • Articulated Dining Car (Triple Unit, consisting of a Coffee Shop car, Kitchen car, and Dining Room car)
  • Chair Car
  • Articulated Chair Car (Pair)
  • Articulated Chair Car (Pair)
  • Chair Car
  • Tavern Car
  • Parlor Car
  • Parlor Observation Car

*Note: 20 cars was the maximum consist, if demand was there.

A typical 1970 passenger car consist:

  • Baggage Car
  • Chair Car
  • Chair Car
  • Chair Car
  • Automat Car
  • Chair Car
  • Observation Chair Car



Two Coast Daylight locomotives survive: Southern Pacific 4449, a GS-4 steam locomotive which was a Bicentennial American Freedom Train engine in 1975-76, and Southern Pacific 6051, an EMD E9 diesel locomotive.

Steam Locomotives
Class Wheel arrangement
(Whyte notation)
Locomotive Numbers Years of Daylight Service Retired Current Disposition
GS-2 4-8-4 4410–4415 1937–1941 1956 No survivors
GS-3 4-8-4 4416–4429 1938–1942 1957 No survivors
GS-4 4-8-4 4430–4457 1941–1955 1958 One survives; 4449
GS-5 4-8-4 4458 & 4459 1942–1955 1958 No survivors
Diesel Locomotives
Builder Model Locomotive Numbers Years of Daylight Service Retired Current Disposition
ALCO PA 6005–6016, 6019–6045, 6055–6068 (A units);

5910–5915, 5918–5924 (B units)

1953–1968 1968 No survivors
EMD E7 6000–6004, 6017 (A units);

5900–5909, 5916 & 5917 (B units)

1953–1968 1968 No survivors
EMD E8 6018 1954–1968 1968 No survivors
EMD E9 6046–6054 1954–1971 1971 One survives; 6051
EMD FP7 6446–6462 1953–1971; All but 6462 sold to Amtrak in 1971 Early 1980s (with Amtrak) No survivors
EMD SDP45 3200–3209 1967–1971; leased by Amtrak until 1974 Early 1990s No survivors

See also[edit]


  • DeNevi, Don (1996). America's Fighting Railroads: A World War II Pictorial History. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc., Missoula, MT. ISBN 1-57510-001-0. 
  • Wright, Richard K. (1970). Southern Pacific Daylight: Train 98-99. RKW Publications, Sparks, NV. 

External links[edit]