Pacific Parlour Cars Make Their Last Journey

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Yard Limit

Member

Amtrak, in a recent poorly conceived decision, decided to retire the five Pacific Parlour Cars that were well known and appreciated on the Coast Starlight.

On February 17 and 18, 2018, these cars departed Los Angeles on the eastbound Southwest Chief where we were fortunate to catch them in Albuquerque and Lamy, New Mexico.

Evan Stair, of the Friends of the Southwest Chief, writes:

"Pacific Parlor Car Significance

The Pacific Parlor Cars were originally purchased by the Santa Fe Railway in the 1950s for the Chicago-Kansas City-Los Angeles El Capitan. The El Capitan was the first extra fare Hi-Level intercity coach passenger train.

Three types of cars were purchased. These included coaches, diners, and these lounge cars. Eventually, the Hi-Level equipment spread out over the entire Santa Fe passenger system. You would see Hi-Level coaches on trains such as the Texas Chief and the San Francisco Chief.

Amtrak took over Santa Fe passenger operations in 1971. The Hi-Level cars constituted a portion of the Santa Fe's payment for joining Amtrak. The Santa Fe transferred other cars to Amtrak, but the Hi-Level cars were unique. In fact, they inspired Amtrak to work with car manufacturers to design and build the Superliners you see today.

The cars migrated to the Coast Starlight and were renamed the Pacific Parlor Cars. These are the last first class lounge cars to run on any Amtrak passenger train. They were unique to the Coast Starlight as their simply were not enough of them to use on other routes.

Re-purposed, the Pacific Parlor Cars were intended to be only for sleeping car passengers while the Superliner Sightseer Lounge was intended for coach passengers. Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson believed these non-revenue cars were an extravagant, non-standard expense the company could no longer afford. No doubt Anderson's tenure at Delta Airlines has him cutting every possible amenity to squeeze the last penny out of ever dollar.
It is a sad day as Amtrak continues to chase the impossible dream of self-sufficiency. As it does so, even though Congress removed the for-profit mandate from law in the 1990s, it makes train travel just a bit less enjoyable in the US."
 

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
Great video. Your 4K videos look great on full screen and really raise the bar for home videos.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Yard Limit

Member
Thanks Bill! I edited the first part on Sunday after I shot it and then finished it after I came home from Lamy. Since it's 4K it takes almost as long to render it as it does to edit it, but at least I don't have to sit in front of the computer while I do that.
 

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
I found an interesting article in the August 2017 edition of Trains about Amtrak's Beech Grove shops in Indiana. These shops are where Superliner and other cars are maintained and rebuilt. A chart in the article showed that three Pacific Parlour cars were programmed for overhauls in FY 2017. Too bad Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson (no relation to me) decided to retire them instead.
 

tootnkumin

Member
Their future as private varnish cars could be a bit bleak as well, now that AMTRAK is pulling the plug on that business. A bit Catch 22, a higher resale value if the service continued against a fall off in demand for them because of announcing the demise. Now a real smart CEO might have done the former before making the announcement.
 

Boris

Member
Unfortunately these cars are 62 years old, an have exceeded their normal service life, and no matter how well received by the traveling public, they are mechanical time bombs.

Richard Anderson's mandate is to cut costs, and his bosses at DOT expect him to do so. If there is enough public demand, they can convert some Superliners to fill the void. My educated guess is that in the end the standard lounge car will be sufficient.

Boris
 

Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
Unfortunately these cars are 62 years old, an have exceeded their normal service life, and no matter how well received by the traveling public, they are mechanical time bombs.

Richard Anderson's mandate is to cut costs, and his bosses at DOT expect him to do so. If there is enough public demand, they can convert some Superliners to fill the void. My educated guess is that in the end the standard lounge car will be sufficient.

Boris
I would tend to agree.

Don't forget these two factors:
1) They were only operated on the Coast Starlight. No other Amtrak train had them.
2) They were only available to sleeping car passengers.

From a general public point of view, this is like some airline closing the first class lounge at O'hare. Most folks won't know and won't care.
 

Boris

Member
Don't forget these two factors:
1) They were only operated on the Coast Starlight. No other Amtrak train had them.
2) They were only available to sleeping car passengers.

From a general public point of view, this is like some airline closing the first class lounge at O'hare. Most folks won't know and won't care.
Bob: Good point. Some folks are disturbed by Amtraks eliminating some of the frills associated with the "glory days" of passenger train travel, but obviously many of these nostalgic folk haven't been on a train since Amtrak began some 47 years ago. Todays train traveler, is more likely to patronize the Cafe car, than a formal dining car, just like they are more inclined to patronize Starbucks, than the Ritz.
 

Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
Bob: Good point. Some folks are disturbed by Amtraks eliminating some of the frills associated with the "glory days" of passenger train travel, but obviously many of these nostalgic folk haven't been on a train since Amtrak began some 47 years ago. Todays train traveler, is more likely to patronize the Cafe car, than a formal dining car, just like they are more inclined to patronize Starbucks, than the Ritz.
Exactly, and even if they were, this is a niche (sleeping car passengers) within a niche (Coast Starlight Only).

This cut is much less onerous than the move they made years ago to switch to plastic cutlery and plates in the dining car.

Also, the Coast Starlight still has a Superliner Lounge Car along with the diner. So they still have a lounge car available, if they're willing to mix with the commoners who ride in coach. (I'm guessing most of them won't mind that at all.)
 

TCJim

Handler and Palm Reader
The problem is that if you make the train riding experience as bad as the airlines, what's the value of the train?
The travelling public's choice will be to go to their cars, even though from an accounting standpoint the train is cheaper for the traveler in most cases.

The new Amtrak CEO needs to strike that balance.

Now, if the money savings in cost containment is put back into keeping the regular operating equipment reliable, and eliminating almost all Amtrak equipment caused delays, then it won't appear he's trying to kill the passenger rail option.

Make everything else reliable, and I'm onboard with that.

But train travel, although not the 'glory days of old' is still a superior way to travel.
Coach seating on the long distance trains is in a completely different world than airline seating... no, actually, universe.
From talking with some retired airline employees, (a pilot, and a flight attendant) plane travel isn't like it used to be.
 

Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
The problem is that if you make the train riding experience as bad as the airlines, what's the value of the train? The travelling public's choice will be to go to their cars, even though from an accounting standpoint the train is cheaper for the traveler in most cases.
I totally agree with you. However, I also feel that this particular change is small. The Coast Starlight ran with 3 non-revenue cars. You had the sleepers, the Pacific Parlour Car, the Dining Car and then the Lounge/Observation followed by the coaches. The Parlour was used for things like organized games, wine and cheese tasting as well as movies (from what I've heard). Granted, the loss of those amenities takes away some of the glamour, but on the whole the train is still far more pleasant than air travel.
 

tootnkumin

Member
The problem is that if you make the train riding experience as bad as the airlines, what's the value of the train?
The travelling public's choice will be to go to their cars, even though from an accounting standpoint the train is cheaper for the traveler in most cases.

The new Amtrak CEO needs to strike that balance.

Now, if the money savings in cost containment is put back into keeping the regular operating equipment reliable, and eliminating almost all Amtrak equipment caused delays, then it won't appear he's trying to kill the passenger rail option.

Make everything else reliable, and I'm onboard with that.

But train travel, although not the 'glory days of old' is still a superior way to travel.
Coach seating on the long distance trains is in a completely different world than airline seating... no, actually, universe.
From talking with some retired airline employees, (a pilot, and a flight attendant) plane travel isn't like it used to be.
I did see, just recently, that one Airline (can't recall where) was considering installing standing up passenger accomodation.
 

Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
I did see, just recently, that one Airline (can't recall where) was considering installing standing up passenger accomodation.
I saw that too, it was more like what you find on a "stand up roller coaster" than say what you'd find in a New York City subway. You did have a restraint system, but it wasn't comfortable looking by any means. I think it was for short haul commuter runs in Asia or something. I don't think it would be very well received here in the US.
 

tootnkumin

Member
Tempted to suggest they also install pedals driving propellors (or flapping the wings) and selling it as flights for the exercise or weight conscious. Extra discounts per pound lost per flight.
 




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