Sunset Limited

The Sunset Limited is an Amtrak passenger train that for most of its history has operated between New Orleans and Los Angeles, over the nation's second transcontinental route. However, up until Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it operated between Orlando and Los Angeles, and 1993–96, continued on to Miami (via the Silver Meteor's route). It is the oldest continuously operating named train in the United States, introduced in 1894 by the Southern Pacific Railroad, and acquired by Amtrak upon its formation in 1971.

Sunset Limited
Amtrak Sunset East.jpg
The Sunset Limited eastbound in Florida in 2004
Service typeInter-city rail
LocaleSouthern United States
First service1894 (1894)
Current operator(s)Amtrak
Former operator(s)Southern Pacific (1894–1971)
Annual ridership73,904 (FY22) Increase 28.4%[a][1]
TerminiLos Angeles, California
New Orleans, Louisiana
Distance travelled1,995 mi (3,211 km)
Average journey time
  • 45 hours, 40 minutes (eastbound)
  • 46 hours, 35 minutes (westbound)[2]
Service frequencyThree round trips per week
Train number(s)1 (westbound)
2 (eastbound)
On-board services
Class(es)Coach Class
Sleeper Service
Disabled accessTrain lower level, all stations
Sleeping arrangements
  • Roomette (2 beds)
  • Bedroom (2 beds)
  • Bedroom Suite (4 beds)
  • Accessible Bedroom (2 beds)
  • Family Bedroom (4 beds)
Catering facilitiesDining car, Café
Observation facilitiesSightseer lounge car
Baggage facilitiesOverhead racks, checked baggage available at selected stations
Rolling stockGE Genesis
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Operating speed44 mph (71 km/h) (avg.)
79 mph (127 km/h) (top)
Track owner(s)UP, BNSF

Along with the Cardinal, this train is one of Amtrak's two long-distance services which operate thrice weekly.[3] Consequently, the Sunset Limited carried the third-fewest passengers of any Amtrak train in fiscal year 2019, 92,827, a 4.4% decrease over FY2018. It had a total revenue of $10,769,179 in 2016, marking a 7.5% decrease over FY2015.[4][5]


Amtrak Sunset Limited (interactive map)

For most of its existence, the Sunset Limited route was owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The name Sunset Limited traces its origins to the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway, a Southern Pacific subsidiary which was known as the Sunset Route as early as 1874.

Most of the current route from New Orleans westward is now owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, which acquired Southern Pacific in 1996. However, the route within Louisiana and some of Texas was partially sold to BNSF Railway[6] in 1995 in return for BNSF not objecting to the UP-SP merger.

On the portion of the route east of New Orleans, service was suspended after Hurricane Katrina. Those tracks, between New Orleans and Florida, include parts of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, and the Louisville and Nashville Railroad—all now merged into CSX Transportation. Currently, the segment of the former Atlantic Coast Line Railroad between DeLand and Orlando is owned by Orlando's commuter service SunRail, and the segment of track from Pensacola to Baldwin is now owned by the Florida Gulf & Atlantic Railroad.

The train uses the following route segments, identified here by the names of their original owners:

Route Original owner Current owner
New Orleans–Lafayette, Louisiana Morgan's Louisiana and Texas Railroad and Steamship Company (SP) BNSF / UP[6]
Lafayette–Lake Charles, Louisiana Louisiana Western Railroad (SP)
Lake Charles–Orange, Texas UP
Orange–Houston, Texas Texas and New Orleans Railroad (SP)
Houston–El Paso, Texas Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway (SP)
El Paso–Los Angeles, California Southern Pacific Railroad


Traffic by Fiscal Year (October–September)
Ridership Change over previous year Ticket Revenue Change over previous year
2007[7] 63,336 - $6,955,881 -
2008[7] 71,719  013.2% $8,052,515  015.8%
2009[7] 78,775  09.8% $8,272,084  02.7%
2010[8] 91,684  016.4% $9,962,415  020.4%
2011[8] 99,714  08.8% $11,138,286  011.8%
2012[9] 101,217  01.5% $11,584,844  04.0%
2013[9] 102,924  01.7% $12,275,400  06.0%
2014[10] 105,041  02.1% $12,597,724  02.6%
2015[10] 100,713  04.1% $11,639,368  07.6%
2016[4] 98,079  02.6% $10,769,179  07.5%
2017[11] 99,000  00.9% - -
2018[12] 97,078  01.9% - -
2019[12] 92,827  04.4% - -
2020[13] 55,118  038.9% - -
2021[14] 57,562  04.4% - -
2022[14] 73,904  028.4% - -


The train when it ran between New Orleans and San Francisco
Early depiction of the train at Yuma, Arizona.
The train crossing Ciénega Creek near Vail, Arizona, in 1921.

Southern PacificEdit

Before the start of Amtrak on May 1, 1971, the Sunset Limited was operated by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Sunset Limited is the oldest named train in the United States, operating since November 1894 along the Sunset Route (though originally named the Sunset Express). The Sunset Route (originating in New Orleans) is the southernmost of the three gateways to the West Coast envisioned through the Pacific Railroad Acts. The other two embarked from Chicago and St. Louis. However, the Sunset Route had two major advantages over the other two routes. It was an all-weather, year-round route that did not face the crippling snows of the Wasatch or Sierra mountain ranges to reach the Pacific Coast. Additionally, the other two routes had to assault the front range of the Rockies.

In addition, opened 20 years before the Panama Canal, the Sunset Route vastly shortened the time to reach the West Coast from the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, as New Orleans was already an established seaport for Atlantic shipping lines’ passengers, seeking to reach the US interior. The Sunset Limited allowed passengers to reach the West Coast in a few days, not weeks.

The Sunset Limited was Southern Pacific's premier train.[15] Initially, the Sunset Limited was an all-Pullman train, with sleeping cars and no coaches, running from New Orleans to San Francisco via Los Angeles.[16] From its beginning in 1894, until streamlining in 1950, all the train's cars had 6-wheel trucks and dark olive green paint, with black roofs and trucks. In the summer of 1926, it was scheduled at 71 hr 40 min New Orleans to San Francisco; it then carried a coast-to-coast sleeper from Jacksonville to Los Angeles.

In contrast to its earliest Amtrak years,[17] the Sunset Limited, up to its later years, made stops not only at Phoenix, but also at Mesa and Chandler, Arizona.[18]


Amtrak left the Sunset unchanged, while it dropped the Louisville & Nashville's Gulf Wind, which operated between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida. The tracks between these two points remained unused by passenger trains until April 29, 1984, when an Amtrak train called the Gulf Coast Limited, running between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, began service, seeking to regenerate some form of regional intercity rail traffic between large cities outside the Northeast. However, this train only lasted until January 6, 1985. Almost five years later, on October 27, 1989, the track segment between Mobile and Flomaton, Alabama, came into passenger train use as part of the route of the Gulf Breeze. This was another attempt to regenerate regional inter-city rail traffic, this time between Birmingham, Alabama, and Mobile. The train was a reestablishment of the Mobile section of Amtrak's New York CityNew Orleans Crescent. It branched from the Crescent's route at Birmingham, turning south toward Montgomery, Flomaton, and terminating in Mobile. The Gulf Breeze was discontinued in 1995.[citation needed]

Meanwhile, on April 4, 1993, passenger service was reestablished along the entire New Orleans–Jacksonville corridor with the extension of the Sunset Limited to Miami,[19] using the route of Amtrak's Silver Meteor south of Jacksonville; it was serviced at Amtrak's Hialeah yards for the return trip. It was only the second direct rail link between Orlando and Miami, following local trains by the Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Coast Line in the mid-1960s. However, schedule unreliability caused the Sunset Limited's eastern terminus to be truncated to Sanford on November 10, 1996. Service was re-extended to Orlando on October 26, 1997, and the train deadheaded (operated empty) between Orlando and Sanford for servicing. Sanford was, and still is, the servicing point for Amtrak's Auto Train.[citation needed]

On September 22, 1993, the Sunset Limited fell into water from a swing bridge that had been knocked out of alignment and had its rails deformed by a row of barges colliding with it. 47 people were killed in the accident.

On September 22, 1993, the three locomotives and four of the eight cars of the eastbound Sunset Limited derailed and fell off a damaged bridge into water near Mobile, Alabama, in Amtrak's worst train wreck, the Big Bayou Canot rail accident. 47 people died.[20] On October 9, 1995, saboteurs derailed the Sunset Limited near Harqua, Arizona by removing 29 spikes from a section of track, and short-circuited the signal system to conceal the sabotage. The attack killed one person and injured dozens of others. The crime still remains unsolved.[21]

On June 2, 1996, the Sunset Limited was rerouted to a more southerly route between Tucson, and Yuma, Arizona, bypassing Phoenix. Union Pacific, which had acquired Southern Pacific earlier in the year, wanted to abandon a decaying portion of its Phoenix–Yuma "West Line" that had previously been used to serve Phoenix.[citation needed] This made Phoenix one of the nation's largest cities without direct passenger service; although the designated Phoenix-area stop is in Maricopa, a suburban community about 40 miles (64 km) south of downtown Phoenix. Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach service, run by Stagecoach Express, connects the two cities.[22]

The Sunset received a better schedule on May 7, 2012, moving its westbound movements from New Orleans to a Monday, Wednesday, Saturday circuit. The times allow several 7- to 12-hour rides between major-city pairs; for example, overnight between Tucson or Maricopa (for Phoenix) and Los Angeles in both directions.[23]

Since 1981, the Texas Eagle has operated as a section of the Sunset Limited. A coach and sleeper from the Texas Eagle split from the eastbound Sunset Limited in San Antonio and continue to Chicago, combining with the westbound Sunset Limited for the journey to Los Angeles. The Texas Eagle runs independently between Chicago and San Antonio for the rest of the week. Between October 2020 and May 2021, the Texas Eagle ran tri-weekly due to massive service reductions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.[citation needed]

A Sunset Limited Consist includes two GE P42DC Locomotives, a Viewliner II Baggage Car, a Superliner transition Sleeper, a Superliner sleeper, a Superliner dining car, a Superliner sightseer lounge car, a Superliner coach-baggage car, two Superliner coaches and a Superliner Sleeper at the rear.[citation needed]

Hurricane Katrina service suspensionEdit

On August 29, 2005, the Sunset Limited route was truncated at San Antonio, Texas, as a result of damage to trackage in the Gulf Coast area caused by Hurricane Katrina. In late October 2005, service was restored between San Antonio and New Orleans, as the line through Louisiana had been repaired.[citation needed]

As time has passed, particularly since the January 2006 completion of the rebuilding of damaged tracks east of New Orleans by their owner CSX Transportation Inc., the obstacles to restoration of the Sunset Limited's full route have been more managerial and political than physical. Advocates for the train's restoration have pointed to revenue figures for Amtrak's fiscal year 2004, the last full year of coast-to-coast Sunset Limited service. During that period, the Orlando–New Orleans segment accounted for 41% of the Sunset's revenue.[24]

Section 226 of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 16, 2008, gave Amtrak nine months to provide Congress with a plan for restoring service that "shall include a projected timeline for restoring such service, the costs associated with restoring such service, and any proposals for legislation necessary to support such restoration of service."[25]

As of 2022, Amtrak's schedules and maps describe the route between Mobile and Orlando as suspended.[22]

New Gulf Coast train serviceEdit

Amtrak's Return to Service Special arrives in Chipley, Florida, on February 19, 2016.

In January 2016, Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission announced jointly that a Gulf Coast passenger rail inspection trip was to be made from New Orleans to Jacksonville, with elected officials among those on board during the February 18–19 excursion. Stops were planned for all of the stations formerly part of the Sunset Limited's route between those two cities.[26] In June 2018, the commission missed the deadline for submitting a request for service restoration along the Gulf. It said that it could not apply for the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) fiscal-year 2017 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements (CRISI) funding because Alabama and Mississippi were unwilling to assist with funds. Alabama's share would have been $5.3 million. The Louisiana governor, on the other hand, was willing to provide the funds. The three states' cooperation was needed to secure the $35.5 million in federal CRISI funds.[27]

In June 2019, the Federal Railroad Administration announced a grant award of $33 million to restore Amtrak service between New Orleans and Mobile, and to upgrade tracks, stations, and other facilities to support improved passenger rail service. The grant was matched by funds from Louisiana, Mississippi, and the city of Mobile. Officials announced plans for up to four daytime rail trips per day within 24 months, serving the cities of New Orleans, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula. Having received a commitment of support from the City of Mobile, if the state of Alabama participates, service could be extended to downtown Mobile.[28][29]

On February 23, 2021, following the conclusion of one year negotiations with CSX and Norfolk Southern, Amtrak officials announced that Gulf Coast Service between New Orleans and Mobile would start as early as January 2022.[30] Amtrak plans to pay for repairs along the route.[31] As of late 2022, after lengthy negotiations with Norfolk Southern and CSX, Amtrak now expects Gulf Coast service to begin sometime in 2023. [32] [33]

Potential daily serviceEdit

In 2009, Brian Rosenwald, a now-departed Amtrak executive, outlined ideas for a complete overhaul of the route, including daily service.[34] It was to have the Texas Eagle operate over the Sunset's route west of San Antonio, with a stub train connecting San Antonio (with a cross-platform transfer) and New Orleans. The plans were halted when Union Pacific stated that to get a daily Sunset Limited, Amtrak would need to pay $750 million for infrastructure improvements.[35]

Passenger totals would double with daily service, according to the PRIIA study that looked at Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited service. It forecast an incremental improvement of more than 100,000 passengers from the daily service, which is already running in excess of 100,000 a year.[36] In the meantime, the Union Pacific has double-tracked much of the route with its own money. However, Amtrak still lacks the equipment and funds needed to move to daily service.

In June 2021, Senator Jon Tester of Montana added an amendment to the Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021 which would require the Department of Transportation (not Amtrak itself) to evaluate daily service on all less frequent long-distance trains, meaning the Sunset Limited and Cardinal.[37] The bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee with bipartisan support,[38][39] and was later rolled into President Biden's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Congress passed on November 5, 2021.[40] The report must be delivered to Congress within two years.[41]


  1. ^ "Amtrak Fiscal Year 2022 Ridership" (PDF). Amtrak. November 29, 2022. Retrieved December 6, 2022.
  2. ^ "Amtrak Timetable Results". Retrieved December 20, 2021.
  3. ^ "With Increased Demand and Congressional Funding, Amtrak Restores 12 Long Distance Routes to Daily Service". March 10, 2021.
  4. ^ a b "Amtrak FY16 Ridership & Revenue Fact Sheet" (PDF). Amtrak. April 17, 2017. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  5. ^[bare URL PDF]
  6. ^ a b Bowen, Douglas John (December 2, 2014). "STB to weigh key trackage rights case". Railway Age. Retrieved August 9, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c "Amtrak Fiscal Year 2009, Oct. 2008–Sept. 2009" (PDF). Trains Magazine.
  8. ^ a b "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 8, 2012. Retrieved July 30, 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ a b "Amtrak Sets Ridership Record and Move the Nation's Economy Forward" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 24, 2020.
  10. ^ a b "Amtrak FY15 Ridership & Revenue" (PDF).
  11. ^ "Amtrak FY17 Ridership" (PDF).
  12. ^ a b "Amtrak FY19 Ridership" (PDF).
  13. ^ Luczak, Marybeth (November 23, 2020). "Amtrak Releases FY 2020 Data". Railway Age. New York: Simmons-Boardman Publishing Inc. Retrieved February 18, 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Amtrak Route Ridership: FY22 vs. FY21" (PDF). November 29, 2022. Retrieved January 29, 2023.
  15. ^ Hofsummer, Don L. (2009). The Southern Pacific, 1901–1985. Texas A&M University Press. p. 170. ISBN 9781603441278.
  16. ^ "Local and Through Passenger Time Tables" (PDF). Southern Pacific. p. 10. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via wx4's Dome of Foam.
  17. ^ Amtrak national timetable, May 1, 1971, Table 26
  18. ^ "Southern Pacific Lines, Table 1". Official Guide of the Railways. National Railway Publication Company. 101 (1). June 1968.
  19. ^ Wagster, Emily (April 1, 1993). "All Aboard! Sunset Limited on a Roll". The Clarion-Ledger. pp. A1, A11. Retrieved November 21, 2020 – via  
  20. ^ "Derailment of Amtrak Train NO. 2 on the CSXT Big Bayou Canot Bridge Accident Report". National Transportation Safety Board. September 19, 1994. Archived from the original on March 21, 2018. Retrieved November 7, 2022.
  21. ^ "At least one dead, 100-plus injured in Amtrak derailment". CNN. October 9, 1995. Retrieved May 24, 2007.
  22. ^ a b "Sunset Limited Schedule; Effective November 3, 2019" (PDF). Amtrak. November 3, 2019. Retrieved January 29, 2020.
  23. ^ "Amtrak changes the Sunset Limited schedule: Positives, Negatives, and they agreed to WHAT?". March 15, 2012. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
  24. ^ "Release 06-06: NARP Urges Resumption of New Orleans-Florida Rail Service". National Association of Railroad Passengers. May 3, 2006. Retrieved December 29, 2008.
  25. ^ Pub. L. 110–432 (text) (PDF), H.R. 2095, 122 Stat. 4848, enacted October 16, 2008
  26. ^ "Amtrak and Southern Rail Commission to Host an Inspection Train Across Gulf Coast" (Press release). January 25, 2016. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  27. ^ "Southern states miss funding deadline to restore Amtrak's Gulf Coast service". Progressive Railroading. June 22, 2018. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  28. ^ "Mobile hops aboard Amtrak support by endorsing Gulf Coast rail commitment". February 4, 2020. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  29. ^ "Gulf Coast passenger rail receives $33 million in federal funding". Transportation for America. June 7, 2019. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  30. ^ "Amtrak official: Gulf Coast service starting in 2022". al. February 24, 2021. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  31. ^ "Amtrak to pay for repairs along Gulf Coast route". al. March 5, 2021. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  32. ^ Weinberg, Harrison. "Gulf Coast service to begin sometime in 2923, Amtrak says". Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  33. ^ Weinberg, Harrison. "Agreement Reached in Amtrak Gulf Coast Dispute". David Peter Alan. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  34. ^ "Sunset Limited Marketing Meeting". RailPAC. Retrieved January 26, 2014.
  35. ^ "The Sunset Limited and the Future of the Passenger Train". Trains. December 2010. pp. 14–15.
  36. ^ "PRIIA Section 210 FY10 Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle Performance Improvement Plan" (PDF). September 2010.
  37. ^ "Manchin Secures Language To Evaluate Ways To Restore Cardinal Train Daily Service Through West Virginia". June 16, 2021. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  38. ^ "Key Policy Victories in Senate Rail Title". Rail Passengers Association. June 16, 2021. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  39. ^ Luczak, Marybeth (June 17, 2021). "Senate Commerce Committee's Bipartisan $78B Surface Transportation Bill Advances". Railway Age. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  40. ^ "What's in the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA)?". Rail Passengers Association. November 8, 2021. Retrieved November 11, 2021.
  41. ^ "Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act" (PDF). pp. 285–256. Retrieved November 11, 2021.

Further readingEdit


  1. ^ Amtrak's Fiscal Year (FY) runs from October 1 of the prior year to September 30 of the named year.

External linksEdit