San Francisco Chief

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San Francisco Chief
ATSF 301 with SF Chief west of Herc Apr 71RP - Flickr - drewj1946.jpg
EMD F7s lead the San Francisco Chief west of Hercules, California in April 1971, just prior to discontinuance. Note the mixture of single-level and Hi-Level equipment.
First service June 6, 1954
Last service April 30, 1971
Former operator(s) Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway

The San Francisco Chief was a streamlined passenger train operated by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway ("Santa Fe") between Chicago, Illinois and the San Francisco Bay Area. It operated from 1954 until 1971. The San Francisco Chief was the last new streamliner introduced by the Santa Fe, the first direct service it offered between Chicago and the Bay, the only direct service offered between those two locations over the tracks of a single railroad, and at 2,555 miles (4,112 km) the longest single service offered by a railroad in the United States of America which did not use another railroad's tracks. The San Francisco Chief was one of many trains discontinued when Amtrak began operations in 1971.


The Santa Fe introduced the new streamliner on June 6, 1954; it was Santa Fe's last new streamliner and its first direct service from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay Area. Unlike most Santa Fe streamliners, the San Francisco Chief used the Belen Cutoff and traveled via Amarillo, Texas, bypassing the Raton Pass.[1]:91[2]:73 In common with the Santa Fe's other trains it terminated in Oakland, California (later Richmond, California), with a bus connection across the bay to San Francisco, California. As originally scheduled the San Francisco Chief handled through cars for several cities in Texas, plus a New Orleans, Louisiana sleeper conveyed by the Missouri Pacific Railroad in Houston, Texas. The San Francisco Chief carried the numbers 1 (westbound) and 2 (eastbound). It was the only Chicago–San Francisco train to make the entire journey over its owner's tracks; all other trains used at least one other company's route for a portion of the trip.[3]

The official inauguration of the new train featured a ceremony led by Taptuka, a Hopi chief.[4]:58 The train used a mix of old equipment from other streamliners and some newly constructed equipment, including full-length dome cars (called "Big Domes") built by the Budd Company.[1]:91 Pre-inauguration publicity touted various amenities including improved reclining chairs in the coaches, "classic and popular music...on individual, push-button type receivers," and bar service on the upper level of the dome car via a dumb waiter.[5]

The San Francisco Chief was one of few Santa Fe trains to survive the great purge in 1967–1968, as dozens of trains were discontinued. These discontinuances were prompted in large part by the cancellation of railway post office contracts in 1967.[2]:77 Another survivor, the Grand Canyon, provided through service to Los Angeles at Barstow, California. Amtrak chose the route of California Zephyr for Chicago–San Francisco service, and the San Francisco Chief made its last run on April 30, 1971.[1]:96

The discontinuance of the San Francisco Chief marked the end of passenger service on the Belen Cutoff. Since 1971 there have been periodic discussions between Amtrak and the successive owners of that route (the Santa Fe and the BNSF Railway) about re-routing the Super Chief, now the Southwest Chief, off the Raton Pass and on the cutoff.[6]:129–131


The lounge area of the upper level of a "Big Dome" in 1954.

The San Francisco Chief was one of several Santa Fe trains to receive the new full-length "Big Dome" dome cars from the Budd Company. The upper level of each car seated 57 in chairs and 18 in a lounge area, while the lower level was given over to a bar-lounge. Its sleeping cars and diners were cast-offs from the Chief and other trains, while some of its coaches (which could seat 48) were new.[1]:91 In 1963–1964 the Santa Fe ordered 24 Hi-Level coaches for use on the San Francisco Chief.[7]:153

The 1960 iteration of the San Francisco Chief carried "chair cars" (coaches), a "Big Dome" dome lounge, a dining car, and sleeping cars. Accommodations in the sleeping cars included sections, roomettes, double bedrooms, compartments, and drawing rooms. The train handled through sleepers from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Lubbock, Texas, and Houston, plus a set-out sleeper at Kansas City, Missouri. All chair cars were by reservation only.[8]:828


  1. ^ a b c d Glischinski, Steve (1997). Santa Fe Railway. Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International. ISBN 0760303800. OCLC 37567382. 
  2. ^ a b Solomon, Brian (2003). Santa Fe Railway. Voyageur Press. 
  3. ^ Bowen, Eric H. "The San Francisco Chief". Streamliner Schedules. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 
  4. ^ Schafer, Mike; Joe Welsh (1997). Classic American Streamliners. Osceola, WI: MotorBooks International. ISBN 0760303770. OCLC 37281634. 
  5. ^ "San Francisco Chief Service Begins June 6". Milwaukee Sentinel. May 23, 1954. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 
  6. ^ Sanders, Craig (2006). Amtrak in the Heartland. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34705-X. OCLC 61499942. 
  7. ^ Wegman, Mark (2008). American Passenger Trains and Locomotives Illustrated. Minneapolis, MN: Voyageur Press. ISBN 9780760334751. OCLC 192109816. 
  8. ^ Official Guide of the Railways (National Railway Publication Co.). June 1960. 

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