Coast Starlight

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Coast Starlight
The Southbound Coast Starlight at horseshoe curve.jpg
The southbound Coast Starlight descends Cuesta Grade near San Luis Obispo.
Service type Inter-city rail
Status Operating
Locale Western United States
First service May 1, 1971
Current operator(s) Amtrak
Ridership 1,169 daily
426,584 total (FY11)[1]
Start Seattle, Washington
Stops 29
End Los Angeles, California
Distance travelled 1,377 mi (2,216 km)
Average journey time 34 hours, 52 minutes
Service frequency Daily each way
Train number(s) 11, 14
On-board services
Class(es) Coach and Sleeper Service
Seating arrangements Reserved Coach Seat
Superliner Lower Level Coach Seats
Sleeping arrangements Superliner Roomette (2 beds)
Family Bedroom (4 beds)
Superliner Bedroom (2 beds)
Superliner Bedroom Suite (4 beds)
Superliner Accessible Bedroom (2 beds)
Catering facilities Fully licensed dining car
On-board café
Observation facilities Sightseer Lounge Car
Entertainment facilities Movies and wine tasting in the Pacific Parlour Car (Sleeping Car passengers only)
Baggage facilities Checked baggage available at selected stations
Rolling stock GE P42DC diesel locomotive
Superliner car
Budd Company Hi-Level Pacific Parlour Heritage car
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Track owner(s) BNSF, UP, and SCRRA
Amtrak Coast Starlight (interactive map)

The Coast Starlight is a passenger train operated by Amtrak on the West Coast of the United States. It runs 1,377 miles (2,216 km) from King Street Station in Seattle, Washington, to Union Station in Los Angeles, California. The train's name was formed by merging of two Southern Pacific Railroad train names, the Coast Daylight and the Starlight, two of SP's numerous Coast Line trains. Major stops include Portland and Eugene, Oregon; and Sacramento, Emeryville (for San Francisco), Oakland, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara, California.


The Coast Starlight at Union Station in Tacoma, Washington in 1974. Amtrak moved to a new, smaller station in 1984.

Before the formation of Amtrak, no one passenger train ran the length of the West Coast. The closest equivalent was SP's West Coast, which ran via the San Joaquin Valley from Los Angeles to Portland, with through cars to Seattle via the Great Northern Railway.[2] The SP had the Coast Daylight between Los Angeles and San Francisco and the Cascade between Oakland and Portland. The SP also ran overnight trains between Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay area – the all-sleeping car Lark on the coast route and the mixed coach and Pullman Owl on the San Joaquin Valley line. Service from Portland north to Seattle was provided by the Union Pacific, Northern Pacific Railroad or Great Northern Railway. After the 1970 merger of the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific into the Burlington Northern Railroad, service was provided by the Burlington Northern. Trains south from Los Angeles to San Diego were the Santa Fe's San Diegans.

With the start of Amtrak operations on May 1, 1971 a single train began running between Los Angeles and Seattle, and for a few months between San Diego and Seattle.[3] The unnamed train ran three days a week; on the other four days (northbound Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday; southbound Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) another unnamed train ran between Los Angeles and Oakland (initially 98 northbound and 99 southbound). Connecting trains ran between San Diego and Los Angeles and between Portland and Seattle (those became the San Diegan and Mount Rainier/Puget Sound on November 14). In the November 14, 1971 timetable, the LA-Oakland train received the Coast Daylight name that the SP had used for its LA-San Francisco train, and was extended to San Diego with numbers 12 and 13. The San Diego-Seattle train received the new name Coast Starlight and became trains 11 and 14.

A few years later the Coast Daylight was merged into the Coast Starlight, which started to run daily. The Coast Starlight was soon truncated to Los Angeles, though frequent Pacific Surfliner trains continue south. For a couple of years in the mid-1990s the Coast Starlight sent two through coach cars from Los Angeles to San Diego as the last Pacific Surfliner train of the evening (#511). They were coupled onto the first morning train back to Los Angeles where they were re-coupled to the Coast Starlight to Seattle. This was discontinued because of train 11's poor timekeeping. Instead, if train 11 arrives at Los Angeles prior to the final Surfliner departure, through passengers to Orange County and San Diego will take the connecting Surfliner train, otherwise passengers will ride a bus (the motor coach option occurs more often than the train).

The Coast Starlight crosses the Willamette River in Lane County, Oregon in 2008.

Until April 25, 1982 the Coast Starlight used SP's "West Valley Line" between Tehama and Davis, California with a stop in Orland, bypassing Sacramento. It was rerouted to the line between Tehama and Roseville, east of Sacramento, via Chico. In southern California it had a stop in Glendale, later replaced by the current stop in Van Nuys which, unlike Glendale, has Amtrak staff for checking baggage. (Glendale had an Amtrak ticketing office until Amtrak discontinued the Coast Starlight's stop there.) During Season 9 of Reading Rainbow in 1991, the Coast Starlight was used as several segments in the episode "Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express". One of the segments included the host; Levar Burton riding the Coast Starlight for fun where in addition to showcasing the books featured in this episode, introducing the viewers to an engineer and showing a history of trains, he also explored the train (a tour of several different cars like the observation car, dining car, coach car, etc.) while making his way to his bedroom in the sleeping car.

In recent years the train acquired the nickname "Coast Starlate" because of its abysmal on-time record. From October 2005 through August 2006 it arrived on time only 2% of the time, often running 5 to 11 hours behind schedule. This performance was likely a factor in the 26% drop in ridership between 1999 and 2005. Union Pacific Railroad (UP), which handles traffic on the route and local rail groups disputes the causes of the poor performance. Rail groups blame UP for giving priority to freight traffic, while UP cites ongoing track repairs, among other issues.[4] Recently, UP has been giving Amtrak priority. According to Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham, the Coast Starlight was on-schedule 86% of the time in May 2008.[5] Between October 2009 and September 2010, it arrived on time at its final destination 91.2% of the time.[6] In comparison, the Department of Transportation reports that national airlines ran on schedule 74% of the time from April 2007 to April 2008.[7][relevant? ]

During early summer 2008, the Coast Starlight was relaunched with new amenities and refurbished equipment. In July 2008, the Pacific Parlour cars had been refurbished and were back in service as part of the relaunch. This was much anticipated, due to the vast success of Amtrak's "re-launches" of the Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle) and Empire Builder-Portland (Chicago-Portland). Between FY2008 and FY2009, ridership on the Coast Starlight jumped 15% from 353,657 passengers to 406,398 passengers.

In the January 2011 issue of Trains magazine, this route was listed as one of five to be looked at by Amtrak in FY  2012, like the Sunset, Eagle, Zephyr, Capitol, and Cardinal were examined in FY 2010.[8] During fiscal year 2011, the Coast Starlight carried over 425,000 passengers, a decrease of 4% from FY2010. It had a total revenue of US$39,997,952 during FY2011, a 6.9% increase from FY2010.[1]


South of Portland, The Starlight travels the route once used by Southern Pacific's Shasta Daylight and Cascade crack passenger trains. Standing at Union Station, going south, the train is actually facing southeast. As it leaves the station, it curves around toward the north and northeast and crosses the Willamette River over the Steel Bridge. As the train crosses, passengers can see the Broadway Bridge and Fremont Bridge toward the northwest (to the left) and the Burnside Bridge to the south. Tracks going west/north head into UP's Albina Yard and beyond. Also to the south areTom McCall Waterfront Park and the Eastbank Esplanade, a popular hike/bike path. The train passes under a bridge allowing access to the pathway. Passengers may also be able to see from the train the top of the Rose Garden Arena (now known as the Moda Center) and the twin towers of the Oregon Convention Center, both of which are on the east side of the river. The train also passes under Interstate 5 near exit and entrance ramps to/from Interstate 84. The railroad line going east (along I-84) is Union Pacific's Graham line heading east toward the Columbia Gorge and farther east. This was the route of Amtrak's Pioneer and Union Pacific's City of Portland and Portland Rose passenger trains.

Continuing southward, the train passes under the Burnside Bridge then the Morrison and Hawthorne bridges. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry(OMSI) can be seen as the train curves toward the southeast. The Marquam (I-5) and Ross Island bridges are also in view. Passengers can also see the new Oregon Rail Heritage Center, and the new MAX Orange Line (Portland-Milwaukie light rail route) which parallels the route for a few miles. The train passes through UP's Brooklyn Yard and southeast Portland. Westmoreland Park will be to the right (west), while the Eastmoreland Golf Courses are to the Left (east), which includes the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.

The train soon leaves Portland and Multnomah County and enters the city of Milwaukie and Clackamas County. The Willsburg Junction begins the start of the so-called Tillamook Branch, which was once part of the Southern Pacific's route from Portland to Tillamook on the Pacific coast. The line is now operated by the Portland and Western Railroad. The route curves farther to the southeast, passes through Milwaukie, near Happy Valley, underneath I-205, (this is one place where passengers can get a quick look at Mount Hood) and around and through the city of Clackamas as it curves back, to a southwesterly direction. It soon crosses the Clackamas River and the Oregon City Amtrak station. The Amtrak Cascades Talgo trains stop here, but the Coast Starlight normally does not. It just passes by. That is the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center across the street, the structures that look like three giant covered wagons. After passing through Oregon City, the train once again meets up with the Willamette River, paralleling it for several miles, including past Willamette Falls.

The railroad and river soon part ways (they will meet up again later on) as the train enters the Willamette Valley, a broad fertile valley bordered on the east by the Cascade RangeMount Hood, Mount Jefferson and possibly the Three Sisters (North Sister at 10,085 feet, Middle Sister at 10,047 feet, and South Sister at 10,358 feet) should be visible. To the west is the Oregon Coast Range. The valley produces many types of crops, some of which may be seen from the train, including but not limited to: Christmas trees, hops, vineyards, grass seed, various types of flowers and ornamental shrubs, fruits and vegetables. There are also dairy farms and pastures with horses and other types of animals, including llams and alpacas.

The train whizzes through the city of Canby and crosses the Molalla River over a trestle that also curves the railroad more towards the south (it has been traveling in a more southwesterly direction since Clackamas). Aurora and Hubburd are growing farm communities as is Woodburn. Soon the train passes through Salem—the Oregon Capitol Building is to the west (right) of the tracks—and stops at the Salem Amtrak station.


The interior of a Pacific Parlour car.
An EMD F59PHI in Cascades livery supplements two GE P42DCs during a re-route over the Tehachapi Loop.

The train uses double-decker Superliner I & II equipment, including a Sightseer Lounge car that has floor-to-ceiling windows to enjoy the passing scenery.

The Coast Starlight is unique in the Amtrak system, as it includes a first-class lounge car called the "Pacific Parlour Car". The cars are Budd Hi-Level Sky Lounge cars, built in 1956 for the Santa Fe's El Capitan service. Called a "living room on rails", the Parlour car offers several amenities to first-class sleeping car passengers including wireless Internet access, a full bar, a small library with books and games, an afternoon wine tasting, and a movie theater on the lower level.

Baggages are placed in one of Amtrak's Heritage single-level baggage cars or in designated coach-class cars.

The Coast Starlight typically uses Amtrak's primary locomotive, the GE P42DC "Genesis". Secondary locomotives that are occasionally utilized are the older GE P32-8BWH and GE P40DC.

EMD F59PHI locomotives used in corridor services are often spotted on the Coast Starlight as they are ferried from either the Northwest or Northern California down to Amtrak's shops in Los Angeles where equipment required for major locomotive servicing is available.


  1. ^ a b "Amtrak Ridership Rolls Up Best-Ever Records" (PDF). Amtrak. 13 October 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2012. 
  2. ^ The Official Guide of the Railways. The Railroad Journal. January 1947. Page 881, Table 112.
  3. ^ Schwantes, Carlos A. (1993). Railroad Signatures across the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press. pp. 317–318. 
  4. ^ Geiger, Kimberly (8 August 2006). "Coast Starlight Losing Its Luster". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 8 August 2006. 
  5. ^ Engle, Jane (11 June 2008). "Amtrak’s Coast Starlight Train Classes Up Its Act". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 July 2008. 
  6. ^ "Coast Starlight On-Time Performance". Amtrak. Retrieved 18 December 2013. 
  7. ^ "Air Travel Consumer Report" (PDF). Aviation Consumer Protection Division. Retrieved 18 December 2013. 
  8. ^ "PRIIA Section 210 FY12 Performance Improvement Plan" (PDF). Amtrak. Retrieved 18 December 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Agreement Between Union Pacific Railroad Company and Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, effective February 1, 2000 (includes a list of subdivisions from the first post-merger timetable in 1998)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Route map: Google / Bing