The Hi-Levels were 15.5 feet (4.7 m) high, 2 feet (0.61 m) taller than most conventional equipment. The additional space allowed for the entire upper level to be given over to seating, with restrooms, baggage, and other non-revenue areas on the lower level. The coaches could carry either 68 or 72 passengers, over the 44 of comparable single-level long-distance coaches. Each dining car seated 80 (all on the upper level), compared to 36 in a single-level diner. The lounges could seat 60 on the upper level, with additional seating on the lower level. This increased capacity permitted the Santa Fe to run the El Capitan with fewer cars while increasing the total number of passengers carried.:138–241 In all three configurations the staircase between the two levels was located in the center of the car. The 68-seat coaches featured "step down" stairs at one end to permit access to standard-height equipment. The original cars cost US$275,000 apiece.
The Budd Company delivered the Hi-Levels in three batches. The original two prototype coaches (#526–527) entered service on the El Capitan in 1954. Following a positive customer response the Santa Fe ordered 47 more cars: 10 68-seat "step down" coaches (#528–537), 25 72-seat coaches (#700–724), 6 lounges (#575–580) and 6 dining cars (#650–655). These constituted five equipment sets, sufficient for daily service on the El Capitan beginning on July 8, 1956. The Santa Fe ordered an additional 24 coaches in 1963–1964 for use on the San Francisco Chief; 12 step-down (#538–549) and 12 not (#725–736).:153 The Santa Fe also converted six single-level baggage cars to baggage-dormitories (#3477–3482) with a spoiler at one end to create a visual transition.:166
Amtrak's most prominent Hi-Levels are the so-called "Pacific Parlour Cars," which are the original Hi-Level lounges. Amtrak refurbished five of the six lounges for use on the Coast Starlight as sleeping car passenger only lounges.:140
^Simon, Elbert; Warner, David C. (2011). Amtrak by the numbers: a comprehensive passenger car and motive power roster, 1971-2011. Kansas City, MO: White River Productions. ISBN978-1-932804-12-9. OCLC837623640.