The Southwest Chief heading west toward Trinidad, Colorado against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Range.
|Service type||Inter-city rail, higher speed rail|
|Locale||Western United States|
|Average ridership||972 daily
354,912 total (FY11)
|No. of intermediate stops||31|
|End||Los Angeles, California|
|Distance travelled||2,256 mi (3,631 km)|
|Average journey time||42 hours, 15 minutes|
|Service frequency||Daily each way|
|Class(es)||Coach and First|
|Seating arrangements||Airline-style coach seating|
|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|
|Baggage facilities||Checked baggage available at selected stations|
|Rolling stock||P42 locomotives
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
|Operating speed||90 mph (145 km/h) maximum
55 mph (89 km/h) average (including stops)
The Southwest Chief (formerly the Southwest Limited and Super Chief) is a higher speed passenger train operated by Amtrak on a 2256-mile (3631 km) route through the Midwestern and Southwestern United States. It runs from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California, passing through Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The Southwest Chief uses the tracks of the BNSF Railway's Southern Transcon route. The Southwest Chief formerly operated on a different alignment from Galesburg to Chicago via Chillicothe, Streator and Joliet, Illinois, until 1996 when it was routed over the California Zephyr route. Another route change took place in early 1994, when the train was re-routed onto the Santa Fe Third District via Fullerton and Riverside when previously it served Pasadena and Pomona via the Santa Fe Pasadena Line, until that route was closed to all through-traffic and subsequently converted to the LACMTA Gold Line light rail system of today.
During fiscal year 2011, the Southwest Chief carried a total over 350,000 passengers, a 3.7% increase from FY 2010. The train had a total of revenue of $44,184,060 during FY 2011, a 6.2% increase from FY 2010.
The Southwest Chief is the successor to the Super Chief, a train operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (Santa Fe) until 1971 and later by Amtrak until March 1974 when the Santa Fe forced Amtrak to stop using the name because of a perceived decline in quality after Amtrak took over the Santa Fe's passenger trains. After subsequent improvements in service, the Santa Fe allowed Amtrak to change the name of the Southwest Limited to the Southwest Chief on October 28, 1984.
National Chief 
During 1997 and part of 1998, Amtrak operated the Southwest Chief in conjunction with the Capitol Limited, a daily Washington-Chicago service. The two trains used the same Superliner equipment sets, and passengers traveling on both trains could remain aboard during the layover in Chicago. Originally announced in 1996, Amtrak planned to call this through service the "National Chief" with its own numbers (15/16), although the name and numbers were never used. Amtrak dropped the practice with the May 1998 timetable.
The train currently consists of two P42 locomotives, one baggage car, one Superliner transition sleeping car, two Superliner sleeping cars, a Superliner dining car, a Superliner lounge car, and three Superliner coach cars (one of which is usually a coach-baggage car). A fourth Superliner coach may be added during peak travel periods.
Unique among all long distance Superliner trains, the Southwest Chief is permitted to run up to a maximum of 90 mph (145 km/h) along significant portions of the route because of Automatic train stop installed by the Santa Fe railroad. Given Amtrak's own projected 41 hour travel time, the average speed is still in excess of 55 mph (including stops).
During the spring and summer months, Volunteer Rangers with the Trails & Rails program from the National Park Service travel onboard and provide a narrative between La Junta, Colorado, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Starting in May 2013, Volunteer Rangers with Trails & Rails will also be onboard providing a narrative between Chicago, Illinois, and La Plata, Missouri.
During the months of June, July and August, the Southwest Chief is used by thousands of Boy Scouts traveling to and from Philmont Scout Ranch via the Raton Amtrak Station. During those months Raton station is occupied by Amtrak employees and handles checked baggage.
In the January 2011 issue of Trains Magazine, this route was listed as one of five routes to be looked at by Amtrak in FY 2012 and examined like previous routes (Sunset, Eagle, Zephyr, Capitol, and Cardinal) were examined in FY 2010.
Kansas downgrade 
According to the August 2010 issue of Trains Magazine, the Southwest Chief currently faces some challenges regarding some moves made by BNSF to cease all freight operations between La Junta, CO, and Lamy, NM. It was reported that BNSF told Amtrak as of January 1, 2010, that all maintenance costs belonged to Amtrak if they wished to pursue routing the train over the same right-of-way. Furthermore, BNSF has also declared that it will maintain the tracks between Hutchinson, KS, and La Junta, CO, at a Class three (60 mph passenger train maximum) speed instead of a Class four (79 mph passenger train maximum), again handing the bill over to Amtrak if they wanted to see service at a Class four level. These moves have led BNSF to offer to host the Southwest Chief over BNSF's currently used freight routes via Wichita, KS, Wellington, KS, Amarillo, TX, and Clovis, NM; however, Amtrak has refused and insists that they will pay the bill in order to keep the service as it currently is.
Route description 
Amtrak's Southwest Chief departs Los Angeles Union Station in downtown LA at 6:15 p.m. (Pacific Time), making its way through suburban Fullerton, Riverside, and San Bernardino, California. After climbing through Cajon Pass, the train enters the Mojave Desert and stops in Victorville, Barstow and Needles, California. The Southwest Chief then crosses Arizona with stops in Kingman, Williams Junction, Flagstaff and Winslow, Arizona. Entering New Mexico around 8:00 a.m. (Mountain Time), the train stops briefly in Gallup before crossing the Rio Grande and entering Albuquerque for an extended stop. The rest of the afternoon is spent traversing NE New Mexico's highlands with stops in Lamy, Las Vegas, and Raton, New Mexico. The train then crosses Raton Pass before stopping in Trinidad. East of there the Southwest Chief is on the open plains, and has a handful of stops (notably La Junta, Colorado and Topeka, Kansas) before reaching Kansas City, Missouri early the next morning. After a long stop in Kansas City the train stops once more in Missouri, at La Plata, and at Fort Madison, Iowa. Crossing the Mississippi River before Noon (Central Time), the Southwest Chief stops at the Illinois rail towns of Galesburg, Princeton, and Mendota. The final leg of the trip goes through the ex-urbs and suburbs of Chicago, such as Naperville, Illinois. The train arrives at Chicago Union Station at 3:15 p.m. (Central Time), offering views of the Chicago skyline, including the famed Willis Tower (previously known as the Sears Tower) before heading underground to the station platform. Trains westbound now depart from Chicago Union Station at 3:00 p.m. and arrive at Los Angeles Union Station at 8:15 a.m. roughly two days later.
- "Amtrak Ridership Rolls Up Best-Ever Records" (PDF). Amtrak. 13 October 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
- "Amtrak National Timetable". November 10, 1996. Retrieved 2010-03-14.
- "Amtrak National Timetable". May 11, 1997. Retrieved 2010-03-14.
- "Amtrak National Timetable". May 17, 1998. Retrieved 2010-03-14.
- "Amtrak's Improvement Wish List", Trains, January 2011, 20-21.
- Fred W. Frailey, "Minus its backbone, Amtrak makes a tempting target," Trains, August 2010, 18.
- Southwest Chief Timetable, effective October 18, 2010
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