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California Zephyr

The California Zephyr is a train route operated by Amtrak in the Midwestern and Southwestern United States. It runs from Chicago, Illinois in the east to Emeryville, California in the west, passing through the states of Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. This route is one of the longest and most scenic routes run by Amtrak.


The pre-Amtrak California Zephyr

Before Amtrak operated a train with this name, the California Zephyr was operated jointly by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q), Denver & Rio Grande Western (DRGW) and Western Pacific (WP) railroads.

This train was the first in the nation to use Vista Dome cars. The first train was christened in San Francisco by Eleanor Parker while California's Lieutenant Governor Goodwin Knight and Western Pacific 's President Harry Mitchell watched. For the inaugural run in 1949, every female passenger on the train was given a corsage of "silver" and orange orchids that were specially flown in from Hilo, HI.

The train traveled the route's 2,525 miles in 2 1/2 days.

Communities served

From east to west, the communities with regular station stops on this train included:

Equipment used

The passenger cars used when the train was inaugurated in 1949 were as follows:

  • Baggage
  • Vista-Dome chair car
  • Vista-Dome chair car
  • Vista-Dome chair car
  • Vista-Dome dormitory-buffet-lounge car
  • Sleeper (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Diner (48 seats)
  • Sleeper (16 sections)
  • Sleeper (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms) - this was a run-through car to New York, NY
  • Vista-Dome dormitory-buffet-lounge-observation (1 drawing room, 3 double bedrooms)

The forward section of the first Vista-Dome car was partitioned off and reserved for women and children only. There was a door in the corridor under the dome just behind the women's restroom that provided access to the reserved section. In later years, the reserved section was opened up to all passengers and the door and partitions were removed.

Like the train's operation, ownership of the cars was split between the three railroads almost evenly across all car types. Each car was owned by a single railroad, but the ownership of the cars on any specific day's run of the train depended more on what equipment was available at the terminals than whose railroad the train was operating over at the time.

In 1952 an additional Pullman sleeper (6 double bedrooms) was added to regular service on this train. With the new cars delivered that year, cars arriving in Chicago on the California Zephyr were made available for use on the Ak-Sar-Ben Zephyr for an overnight round trip to Lincoln, NE. When the cars returned from Lincoln the next day, they were placed back in the westbound California Zephyr's consist for the next train out of Chicago that afternoon.


  • March 12 1949: Public exhibition of equipment that will be used on the California Zephyr begins in Oakland, CA. The exhibition travels through along the WP portion of the train's route to Salt Lake City, UT before returning to San Francisco, CA the following week for the inauguration.
  • March 19 1949: The inauguration ceremony for the California Zephyr is held in front of the Pier 3 Ferry building in San Francisco. This is the only time the train is moved into San Francisco, proper; the ceremony is attended by Pacific Opera Company soprano Evelyn Corvello (who sang the Star Spangled Banner to open the ceremony), San Francisco Mayor Leland Cutler , Western Pacific President Harry Mitchell , California Lieutenant Governor Goodwin Knight and Warner Brothers actress Eleanor Parker (who officially christened the train with a bottle of champagne).
  • March 20 1949: The first eastbound California Zephyr leaves San Francisco, CA bound for Chicago, IL at 9:20 am.
  • March 1 1955: The eastbound California Zephyr, while traveling through Ruby Canyon , sees its first on-train birth as Peter Zars is born.
  • February 13 1970: The Interstate Commerce Commission approves the discontinuation of the California Zephyr.
  • March 22 1970: The last westbound California Zephyr leaves Chicago, IL; the train terminates in Oakland, CA.

The Amtrak California Zephyr

Communities served

From east to west, the communities with regular stops on this train include:


  • October 29 2000: Service on the California Zephyr is upgraded to daily.


  • Wayner, Robert J., ed. (1972), Car Names, Numbers and Consists, Wayner Publications, New York, NY

External links

Last updated: 11-06-2004 20:56:35