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, Pacific Coast
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 San Diego and Seattle, and for a few months between San Diego and Seattle. 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). On November 14 Amtrak officially dubbed this dual operation as Coast Daylight-Starlight and extended the former Coast Daylight '​s southern terminus from Los Angeles to San Diego. The Los Angeles–San Diego through-running ended the following April, replaced by a third San Diegan. In June 1973 Amtrak began running the combined Coast Daylight-Starlight daily. Positive response led to Amtrak to retain this service, and the Coast Daylight name was dropped on May 19, 1974.[3]

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 Amtrak San Diegan/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]


Prior to Amtrak in 1971 and Burlington Northern in 1970, the line from Seattle to Portland was owned and operated by the Northern Pacific with the Great Northern and Union Pacific having trackage rights. Each railroad provided one train a day each way; these were known as the coast pool trains.[9] NP and GN trains used King Street Station, while the UP used Union Station, which is across the street.

The train begins its journey from King Street Station, heading south past CenturyLink Field (Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders) and Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners) and past a rail maintenance facility for Amtrak and Sounder commuter rail trains. After passing through south Seattle's industrial area, the train curves to the southeast, passing by UP's Argo Yard, leaving Seattle and entering Renton and past the sprawling Boeing Field (King County International Airport). Facilities include The Museum of Flight—some of its exhibits can be seen from the train. Weather permitting, 14,410-ft Mount Rainier should be visible to the southeast. The train curves to the south, passing through Tukwila. The Union Pacific has its own tracks between Seattle and Tacoma, and its tracks can be seen from the train to the west (right). Amtrak Cascades trains stop at the Tukwila station. Amtrak shares this line with BNSF freights and Sounder commuter rail trains; the train will pass several stations that are stops for the commuter service but not for the Coast Starlight. These stations include Kent, Auburn, Sumner, and Puyallup.

At Auburn, the tracks that divert from the mainline (to the left/east of the train) go east over Stampede Pass. The route was once operated by the Northern Pacific Railway, the route of its famed North Coast Limited. The line became part of the Burlington Northern (BN) in 1970. From 1971 to 1981, it was the route of Amtrak's Empire Builder. The route is now normally freight only and is operated by the BNSF as part of its transcontinental routes to Pasco, Spokane, and beyond.

The train crosses the Green River near Auburn and the Puyallup River near Sumner and has been passing through the Puyallup Valley. It makes for contrasting scenes: cities and towns, warehouses and storage areas, large railyards, golf courses, and sprawling farms and pastures. It is also near Sumner that the mainline rounds a big curve and goes from heading due south to compass northwest. It passes through the city of Puyallup. The Puyallup Fairgrounds (Washington State Fair) can be seen to the south (left). At Reservation, the UP tracks join with the BNSF tracks, as the UP has trackage rights all the way into Portland. Soon the train curves to the south (left) and stops at the Tacoma Amtrak station. The Tacoma skyline can be seen to the right (south). To the southeast of the station is the Tacoma Dome. The Tacoma station sits near the large railyards, while cranes and ships can be seen around and on Commencement Bay (Port of Tacoma). Tacoma Union Station was once a major passenger train hub, surviving into the Amtrak era (until 1984). It is now a US federal courthouse.

After leaving the station, the train once again makes a sharp turn to the northwest (according to the compass). The skyline is to the south (left); the train slips under the Lyons Bridge and the Museum of Glass (to the right) and glides along Commencement Bay which is an arm of the Puget Sound, with its views of the water, piers, restaurants, mountains and communities off in the distance. The train goes through two tunnels underneath Point Defiance Park. Upon exiting the tunnel the train continues its scenic ride along the Puget Sound. The Olympic Mountains with Mt. Olympus—7,980 ft (2,430 m) high—are across the water to the west. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge can be seen for a number of miles as the train nears and eventually passes under it. There are presently two separate spans. The original bridge, known as "Galloping Gertie," was built in April 1940 but collapsed in November of the same year. A new bridge opened in October 1950. The second span opened in July 2007. Water scenes include houseboats, ferries, and various other watercraft, beaches, parks, and other sights, and many species of water birds—sometimes bald eagles. The train passes the Chambers Bay Golf Courses (to the left/east, going south) before crossing a short drawbridge and passing through Steilacoom, the train passes a ferry terminal. Steilacoom to Anderson Island Ferry takes passengers to Anderson Island and is operated by Pierce County. All too soon the train reaches the southernmost point of its ride along the Puget Sound, crosses over I-5, the Nisqually River before arriving at Olympia-Lacy Amtrak Centennial Station.

The train continues southward, passing through lush farmlands and forests, Mount Rainier is usually visible to the east (left going south). The train glides through a railyard before arriving at the Centralia Amtrak depot. A few minutes after departing the station, just south of Chehalis, is one of the few places where passengers can get a good, but quick view of Mount St. Helens—8,365 ft (2,550 m) high—from the train. Toledo, Napavine, and Winlock are some of the small communities the train passes through. Winlock boasts the world's largest egg. Near Castle Rock is where motorists turn off I-5 to head toward the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and its namesake peak. The train has been following the Cowlitz River and crosses the Toutle River. Passengers here cannot see Mount Saint Helens, but they can see some of its affects: mountains, hills, and other piles of volcanic ash can be see on both sides of the track. The train goes through a tunnel—one of only three tunnels on the Seattle–Portland route—before arriving at the Kelso station in Kelso. The Three Rivers Golf Course is built on volcanic ash.[10]

After leaving the station, the train continues along the Cowlitz River and soon meets with the Columbia River. The Cowlitz meets with the Columbia out of view of train passengers. Here, the river is long and wide. The state of Oregon is on the other side. Large ocean-going ships can be seen on the river as well as many other types of smaller vessels—tug boats, trawlers, and various kinds of pleasure craft. Just south of Kalama, the tracks ride in the middle of the freeway (I-5): northbound lanes are on the left (east) side of the interstate; the southbound lanes are on the right (west) side. The train crosses the Kalama and Lewis Rivers and passes through Woodland and Ridgefield including the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. As the train skirts Lake Vancouver, some of the tall buildings of Portland can sometimes be seen. The Ridgefield Refuge and Lake Vancouver—actually along much of the route, various kinds of birds—including bald eagles—and other wildlife can often be seen. The train passes through the Vancouver railyards before arriving for a short stop at the Vancouver Amtrak depot. The station sits within a wye. goes east through the Columbia Gorge. South of the station, tracks divert from the Seattle-Portland (Seattle Subdivision) onto the Fallbridge division route to go east This is the route of Amtrak's Empire Builder takes to go east to Spokane and beyond from Portland.

After a brief stop, the train continues southward across the Columbia River via the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge 9.6, leaving the state of Washington and entering the state of Oregon, Mount Hood – 11,249 ft (3,429 m) high – is usually visible to the east. As it enters Oregon, the train is crossing over Hayden Island and crosses another arm of the Columbia River known as North Portland Harbor over the Oregon Slough Railroad Bridge (BNSF Railway Bridge 8.8). Continuing south the train passes through the north Portland neighborhood of St. Johns, crosses the Willamette River over the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge 5.1 and is now on the west side of the river. After passing through several railyards and industrial areas, the train passes under the Fremont Bridge and arrives at Portland's Union Station.

South of Portland, the Starlight travels the route once used by Southern Pacific's Shasta Daylight and Cascade 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 are Tom 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 line) under construction, which parallels the route for a few miles. The new light-rail line includes the new Tilikum Crossing bridge, which can also be seen from the train. 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 tracks also parallel McLoughlin Blvd, also known as Highway 99 East. Highway 99 will follow the train all the way to Junction City, a city just north of Eugene.

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 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, now going in 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 through. The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center can be seen across the street, in 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 the Willamette Falls.

The railroad and river seen 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)[12] 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/or other types of animals.

The Salem Airport (McNary Field) can be seen to the east (left) as the train continues southward, glides through Turner and at Jefferson rounds a curve—now going due west—and crosses the Santiam River and then passes under I-5. A large oil refinery lies to the west (right) as the train enters the city of Albany and rounds a curve, heading farther west. Those are the tracks of the Portland and Western Railroad to the right. They connect with the UP mainline and at Albany with Corvallis, other Willamette Valley communities and Toledo and Port of Toledo on the Oregon coast. Rounding another curve (southward) southward, the train arrives at the Albany Amtrak station—the westernmost Amtrak station.[13] The P&W railyards and maintenaince shops.

Leaving the Albany station (the platform is on a curve), the train heads south on one of the longest stretches of single track on the line—more than 20 miles without a curve. Linn-Benton Community College is to the west (right). About midway is the town of Tangent , named for this long stretch of straight track. There are a number of businesses selling feed and grass seed, as the Willamette Valley is one of the largest producers of grass seed in the nation.

Soon, the tangent gives way to more curving track as the train curves (again) westward and meets up with and crosses the Willamette River on an old drawbridge. The P&W Railroad bridge is close by. The train speeds through Harrisburg—with its noted water tower—and then Junction City, where the train is now paralleled by Highway 99 West, which follows it all the way into Eugene. Incidentally, Junction City is the farthest west that the Union Pacific (ex-SP) gets and is the westernmost point that any Amtrak train gets. The train heads due south for a few miles, passing the Eugene Airport (which has major airline service), and then heads southeast toward the city limits and Eugene Amtrak station in Eugene. At the station, the train is actually facing east. Skinner's Butte to the north (left); downtown Eugene is to the south (right). The Eugene stop is a designated smoke stop, so passengers can take advantage of the moment to get off and stretch one's legs and get some fresh air. The county jail and the Eugene Hilton hotel are nearby.


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. ^ Goldberg 1981, pp. 16-17
  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. ^ Northern Pacific Railway
  10. ^ "Kelso/Longview, WA #1482". Elks. Retrieved September 12, 2009. 
  11. ^ 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)
  12. ^ The Three Sisters
  13. ^ "ALBANY OREGON (ALY)". TrainWeb. Retrieved August 1, 2010. 


External links[edit]

Route map: Google / Bing