The southbound Coast Starlight descends Cuesta Grade near San Luis Obispo.
|Service type||Inter-city rail|
|Locale||Western United States|
|First service||May 1, 1971|
|Average ridership||1,169 daily
426,584 total (FY11)
|No. of intermediate 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|
|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
|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
Budd Company Hi-Level Pacific Parlour Heritage car
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
|Track owner(s)||BNSF, UP, and SCRRA|
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.
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. 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. 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).
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.)
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), who handles traffic on the route and local rail groups dispute 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. 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. Between October 2009 and September 2010, it arrived on time at its final destination 91.2% of the time. In comparison, the Department of Transportation reports that national airlines ran on schedule 74% of the time from April 2007 to April 2008.
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. 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.
- BNSF Seattle Subdivision (ex-NP, later ex-BN), Seattle to Portland
- UP Brooklyn Subdivision (ex-SP), Portland to Eugene
- UP Cascade Subdivision (ex-SP), Eugene to Klamath Falls
- UP Black Butte Subdivision (ex-SP), Klamath Falls to Dunsmuir
- UP Valley Subdivision (ex-SP), Dunsmuir to Marysville
- UP Sacramento Subdivision (ex-WP/ex-SP), Marysville to Sacramento
- UP Martinez Subdivision (ex-SP), Sacramento to Oakland
- UP Niles Subdivision (ex-SP), Oakland to Elmhurst
- UP Coast Subdivision (ex-SP), Elmhurst to San Luis Obispo
- UP Santa Barbara Subdivision (ex-SP), San Luis Obispo to Moorpark
- UP/Metrolink (SCAX) Ventura Subdivision/Ventura County Line (ex-SP), Moorpark to Taylor Yard
- Metrolink (SCAX) River Subdivision, Taylor Yard to Los Angeles Union Station
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 the only Amtrak train with a first-class-only Pacific Parlour lounge car, (formerly Santa Fe Hi-Level Sky Lounge cars, built in 1956 for ATSF's "El Capitan" service). This car offers amenities to sleeping-car passengers, such as complimentary beverages, a library and games, an afternoon wine tasting (nominal fee) and a movie theater in the lower level. For children, play equipment and other distractions are provided in the Arcade Room (formerly Kiddie Car). Baggage is placed in a Heritage Baggage Car. Rarely, Amfleet cars may be added to the train.
The locomotives typically used are part of Amtrak's mainstay fleet, the GE P42DC AMD-103 Genesis series. Secondary locomotives that are occasionally utilized are GE P32-8 (Dash 8) locomotives. In the past, EMD F40PH, SDP40F, FP7, and leased SP SDP45 locomotives have been used.
In rare cases, EMD F59PHI locomotives from the Surfliner and Cascades routes, as well as Amtrak California, are used. On even rarer occasions, Caltrain EMD F40PH and MPI MP36PH-3C locomotives are used, either as substitutes or while being transported to or from repair jobs. Sound Transit's Sounder commuter rail locomotives were also used on the route.
- "Amtrak Ridership Rolls Up Best-Ever Records" (PDF). Amtrak. October 13, 2011. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
- The Official Guide of the Railways. The Railroad Journal. January 1947. Page 881, Table 112.
- Schwantes, Carlos A. (1993). Railroad Signatures across the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press. pp. 317–318.
- Geiger, Kimberly (August 8, 2006). "Coast Starlight Losing Its Luster". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2006-08-10.
- Engle, Jane (June 11, 2008). "Amtrak’s Coast Starlight Train Classes Up Its Act". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
- "Amtrak's Improvement Wish List", Trains, January 2011, 20–21.
- 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)
- "A daily tasting of local wines and artisan cheeses is available for a nominal fee in the refurbished Pacific Parlor Car."
- Image of Caltrain locomotives on Amtrak Coast Starlight service
- (HD)-AMTK #14 Leads the Coast Starlight #11 with a K5L and a Sounder F59PHI, 1/22/11 (YouTube video)
Further reading 
- McKinney, Kevin (June 1991). "At the dawn of Amtrak". Trains Magazine.
- Schafer, Mike (June 1991). "Amtrak's atlas". Trains Magazine.
- Zimmermann, Karl (July 2, 2001). "All Aboard! The Coast Starlight". Trains Magazine.
- "Amtrak's First Trains and Routes". Retrieved November 19, 2005.
- "Amtrak timetable". November 14, 1971. Retrieved November 19, 2005.
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