I have traveled by train a lot. Certainly not as much as many commuters, but my trips on Amtrak and VIA Rail in Canada have been for long-distance miles and they’ve piled up over the years. I made a rough estimate recently and came up with a figure of at least 300,000 miles. I’m sure that a disproportionate number of those miles were on the Coast Starlight.
It’s certainly one of Amtrak’s more scenic routes. Leaving Seattle, the southbound train runs along Puget Sound for many miles, passes through part of the Cascade Range and past Mount Rainier heading into Oregon. The next day the train runs the length of California’s Central Valley, source of much of the fresh produce we all enjoy. And, as the day ends, it follows the California coastline with spectacular views of the beaches much of the way into L. A.
But it wasn’t the just the scenery that kept me coming back to ride on the Coast Starlight. It was the Pacific Parlour Car.
Originally built in the 1950s for the Santa Fe Railroad, only five of these luxurious bi-level lounge cars survived and, among all of Amtrak’s long-distance trains, only the Coast Starlight had one as part of the consist.
One section of the parlour car featured eight overstuffed swiveling armchairs, ideal for enjoying the passing scenery. Toward the middle of the car was a lounge area (photo above) where passengers could sit and chat and where mid-afternoon wine tastings were held. In another section of the car were several booths where passengers could choose to take a lunch or dinner meal instead of in the dining car. And, at the forward end of the car, there was a bar staffed by an attendant who was more than willing to start your day with a passable Bloody Mary.
Relaxing on that train, in those elegant surroundings, while passing through constantly changing scenery . . . well, that’s what train travel is all about. But Richard Anderson, who became Amtrak’s president after heading Northwest and Delta Airlines, looked at the computer printouts for the Pacific Parlour Cars and said, “Those cars cost too much for repair and maintenance. Get rid of them.”
And today, as far as I know, the five Pacific Parlour Cars are sitting in Amtrak’s primary repair and maintenance shops in Beech Grove, Indiana. Nobody but Amtrak passengers wants them. And we don’t count.