Coast Starlight

The Coast Starlight is a passenger train operated by Amtrak on the West Coast of the United States between Seattle and Los Angeles via Portland and the San Francisco Bay Area. The train, which has operated continuously since Amtrak's formation in 1971, was the first to offer direct service between Seattle and Los Angeles. Its name is a combination of two prior Southern Pacific (SP) trains, the Coast Daylight and the Starlight.

Coast Starlight
Coast Starlight passing Alviso Marina, December 2013.jpg
The southbound Coast Starlight in Alviso, California in 2013
Service typeInter-city rail
LocaleWestern United States, Pacific Coast
PredecessorCoast Daylight, Cascade
First serviceMay 1, 1971
Current operator(s)Amtrak
Ridership1,235 daily
450,929 total (FY15)[1]
StartSeattle, Washington
EndLos Angeles, California
Distance travelled1,377 mi (2,216 km)
Average journey time34 hours, 44 minutes
Service frequencyDaily each way
Train number(s)11, 14
On-board services
Class(es)Sleeper Service, Business Class and Coach Class
Disabled accessTrain lower level and all stations accessible
Sleeping arrangementsSuperliner roomettes and bedrooms
Catering facilitiesDining car and café
Observation facilitiesSightseer Lounge Car
Baggage facilitiesChecked baggage available at selected stations
Rolling stockGE P42DC diesel locomotive
Superliner car
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Operating speed79 mph (127 km/h) (top)
40 mph (64 km/h) (average)
Track owner(s)BNSF, UP, and SCRRA

During fiscal year 2019, the Coast Starlight carried 426,029 passengers, an increase of 2.0% from FY2018.[2] In FY2016, the train had a total revenue of $40,534,262, a decrease of 1.4% from FY2015.[3]



Before the formation of Amtrak, no passenger train ran the entire length of the West Coast. The closest equivalent was the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP)'s West Coast, which ran via the San Joaquin Valley from Los Angeles to Portland from 1924 to 1949, with through cars to Seattle via the Great Northern Railway (GN).

By 1971, the SP operated just two daily trains between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area: the Los Angeles–San Francisco Coast Daylight via the Coast Line, and the Los Angeles–Oakland San Joaquin Daylight via the Central Valley. The SP also operated the tri-weekly Cascade between Oakland and Portland, Oregon. The Burlington Northern Railroad (BN) and Union Pacific Railroad ran three daily round trips between Portland and Seattle. The Santa Fe ran the San Diegan between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Amtrak eraEdit

The Coast Starlight at Tacoma in 1974
The Coast Starlight in the Cuesta Hills above San Luis Obispo in 1985

The Seattle–San Diego route was initially left out of plans for Railpax (later Amtrak) until protests from politicians in California, Oregon, and Washington.[4] With the start of Amtrak operations on May 1, 1971, a single train began running between Seattle and San Diego. The unnamed train (#11/12) ran three days a week; on the other four days, another unnamed train (#98/99) ran between Oakland and Los Angeles.[5] On November 14, Amtrak extended the Oakland–Los Angeles train to San Diego, renumbered it to #12/13, and renamed it Coast Daylight. The Seattle–San Diego train became the Coast Daylight/Starlight (#11-12) northbound and Coast Starlight/Daylight (#13-14) southbound.[6] Both trains were cut back from San Diego to Los Angeles in April 1972, replaced by a third San Diegan.[7] On June 10, 1973, Amtrak began running the combined Coast Daylight/Starlight daily for the summer months.[8] Positive response led to Amtrak to retain this service, and the Coast Daylight name was dropped on May 19, 1974.[9]

An additional train, the Spirit of California, ran the section of the route between Sacramento and Los Angeles on an overnight schedule from October 25, 1981 to September 30, 1983.[10] From November 10, 1996 to October 25, 1997, through coaches were transferred between the Coast Starlight and San Diegan at Los Angeles.[11][12][13]

The Coast Starlight originally used the Southern Pacific West Valley Line between Tehama and Davis. That route included a stop at Orland,[14] but bypassed Sacramento. On April 26, 1982, the train was rerouted via Roseville on the Southern Pacific Valley and Martinez Subdivisions, with stops added at Sacramento, Chico, and Marysville,[15] per request from the state.[16][10] In 1999, the Coast Starlight was rerouted onto the more direct ex-Western Pacific Sacramento Subdivision between Marysville and Sacramento, with the Marysville stop closed.[17]

Ridership declined by 26% between 1999–2005 as freight congestion and track maintenance on the Union Pacific Railroad reduced the Coast Starlight's on-time performance to 2%, which Amtrak characterized as "dismal." By mid-summer in 2006 delays of 5–11 hours were common. Critics dubbed the train the Star-late.[18] During early summer 2008, the Coast Starlight was relaunched with new amenities and refurbished equipment. In July 2008, refurbished Pacific Parlour cars returned to service as part of the relaunch. This was much anticipated, due to the success of Amtrak's relaunch of the Empire Builder. Between FY2008 and FY2009, ridership on the Coast Starlight jumped 15% from 353,657 passengers to 406,398 passengers.[citation needed] Operating conditions on the UP improved as well; by May 2008 on-time performance had jumped to 86%.[19]

Service was suspended north of Sacramento for a month in 2017 after a freight derailment damaged a bridge near Mount Shasta, California.[20]

On February 24, 2019, the southbound Coast Starlight struck a fallen tree near Oakridge, Oregon after a rare heavy snowstorm. The train was stranded for 36 hours before tracks could be cleared for a Union Pacific locomotive to tow the train back to Eugene–Springfield.[21]

Future improvementsEdit

The 2018 California State Rail Plan, prepared by Caltrans, outlines a number of planned improvements to rail infrastructure in the state of California. These proposals include near-term plans to create additional stops on the Coast Subdivision at Soledad and King City for use by the Coast Starlight.[22] There is also a proposal in the Capitol Corridor Vision plan to improve the right-of-way shared by the Capitol Corridor and Coast Starlight between Oakland and Martinez.[23] The proposal would re-route the train from along the coastline to a new tunnel through Franklin Canyon and a right-of-way next to California State Route 4 that would reduce the trip time by several minutes.


Amtrak Coast Starlight (interactive map)

Except for two sections, most of the Coast Starlight route is on former Southern Pacific lines now owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. The Coast Starlight runs over the following lines:[24]

The Coast Starlight is occasionally diverted between Oakland and Los Angeles via the Tri-Valley, Central Valley, and Tehachapi Pass due to track work or service disruptions on the Coast Line. These rerouted trains are popular with railfans because they use the Tehachapi Loop, which passenger trains have otherwise been prohibited from using since 1971.[25][26]


Sample Consist
September 1, 2018
LocationOakland, California
TrainAmtrak #14
  • GE P42DC #132
  • GE P32-8 #507
  • Viewliner II Baggage #61049
  • Superliner Transition Sleeper #39043
  • Superliner Sleeper #32111
  • Superliner Sleeper #32001
  • Superliner Sleeper #32042
  • Superliner Diner #38068
  • Superliner Coach (Business Class) #34508
  • Superliner Lounge #33025
  • Superliner Coach #34049
  • Superliner Coach #34035
  • Superliner Coach-Baggage #31017
  • Budd Sleeper #800355 (private car)
  • Budd Dome Diner Lounge #800604 (private car)

The train uses double-decker Superliner I & II equipment, including a Sightseer Lounge car that has floor-to-ceiling windows to view the passing scenery. Baggage is placed in one of Amtrak's new Viewliner II single-level baggage cars or in designated coach-class cars. The Coast Starlight typically uses two GE P42DCs for locomotive power. Secondary locomotives that are occasionally utilized are the older GE P32-8BWHs and GE P40DCs. While the length of the train varies, in 2011 the "peak" consist comprised a baggage car, Transition sleeper, three sleeping cars, Pacific Parlour Car, dining car, Sightseer Lounge, and four coaches.[27]

Prior to February 2018, the Coast Starlight was unique in that it included a first-class lounge car called the "Pacific Parlour Car". The cars were 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 offered 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. Sleeping car passengers could also make reservations to dine in the Parlour car, which offered a unique menu not offered in the standard dining car.[28] In January 2018, in a cost-cutting measure, Amtrak announced the discontinuation of the Pacific Parlour Cars, citing the move as "part of Amtrak's ongoing work to modernize its fleet of equipment."[29] The last day of service was February 2 for northbound train 14 and February 4 for southbound train 11.


  1. ^ "Amtrak Ridership Rolls Up Best-Ever Records" (PDF). Amtrak. October 13, 2011. Retrieved April 3, 2016.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Barr, Robert A. (March 22, 1971). "Seattle train service to be cut". The Seattle Times. p. A1.
  5. ^ Amtrak Nationwide Schedules of Intercity Passenger Service. National Railroad Passenger Corporation. May 1, 1971. p. 26 – via Museum of Railway Timetables.
  6. ^ Amtrak Nationwide Schedules of Intercity Passenger Service. National Railroad Passenger Corporation. November 14, 1971. p. 68 – via Museum of Railway Timetables.
  7. ^ Goldberg 1981, pp. 16–17
  8. ^ Amtrak All-America Schedules. National Railroad Passenger Corporation. June 10, 1973. p. 41 – via Museum of Railway Timetables.
  9. ^ Goldberg 1981, pp. 16–17
  10. ^ a b Vurek, Matthew Gerald (2016). Images of Modern America: California’s Capitol Corridor. Arcadia Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 9781467124171.
  11. ^ Staff (January 1997). "Scanner". Trains: 25.
  12. ^ Amtrak National Timetable: Fall/Winter 1996/97. Amtrak. November 10, 1996. p. 42 – via Museum of Railway Timetables.
  13. ^ Amtrak National Timetable: Fall/Winter 1997/1998. Amtrak. October 26, 1997. p. 52 – via Museum of Railway Timetables.
  14. ^ "Amtrak National Train Timetables". The Museum of Railway Timetables. Amtrak. October 25, 1981. p. 50. Retrieved May 23, 2020.
  15. ^ The Museum of Railway Timetables. Amtrak. April 25, 1982. p. 46 Retrieved May 23, 2020. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  16. ^ Caltrans 1984, p. 29
  17. ^ Amtrak Timetable: National: Fall 1999/Winter 2000. Amtrak. October 31, 1999. p. 53 – via Museum of Railway Timetables.
  18. ^ Geiger, Kimberly (August 8, 2006). "Coast Starlight Losing Its Luster". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on November 18, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2006.
  19. ^ Engle, Jane (June 11, 2008). "Amtrak's Coast Starlight Train Classes Up Its Act". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 4, 2008. Retrieved July 4, 2008.
  20. ^ Sailor, Craig. "Amtrak resumes Coast Starlight service from Seattle to Los Angeles". Bend News Tribune. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  21. ^ Held, Amy (February 26, 2019). "183 Amtrak Passengers Rescued After 36 Hours Stranded In Oregon Amid Heavy Snow". NPR.
  22. ^ Caltrans (September 2018). 2018 California State Rail Plan: Connecting California (PDF) (Report). Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  23. ^ CCJPA (November 2016). Capitol Corridor Vision Implementation Plan (PDF) (Report). Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  24. ^ SMA Rail Consulting (April 2016). "California Passenger Rail Network Schematics" (PDF). California Department of Transportation.
  25. ^ "Amtrak to detour Coast Starlight over Tehachapi Loop". Trains News Wire. February 22, 2013.
  26. ^ Meyer, Steven (June 22, 2018). "Railroad buffs from far and wide ride the Loop". The Bakersfield Californian.
  27. ^ Amtrak 2011, p. 42
  28. ^ Amtrak. "Pacific Parlour Car Northbound Menu" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 30, 2014. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
  29. ^ "Amtrak Advisory | Coast Starlight Parlour Car Removed". Archived from the original on February 2, 2018. Retrieved February 1, 2018.


Further readingEdit

  • Veary, Bruce (July 1986). "After the Daylight: Today's Coast Line". Trains. Vol. 46 no. 9. pp. 26–46. ISSN 0041-0934.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External linksEdit

Route map:

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