The Elegant Pacific Parlour* Cars.
I wonder sometimes if the leadership at Amtrak fully appreciates what they have in the Pacific Parlour Cars. Each one features eight overstuffed swiveling armchairs, a lounge area, and booths where sleeping car passengers can opt to take their meals There is also an attendant who serves the meals, handles wine tastings, and functions as bartender.
I’m told that at the moment these beauties are in Amtrak’s Beech Grove Shops. I take that as a good sign. I have no idea what’s being done, but if Amtrak is spending money on them, at least we can assume there are no immediate plans to take them out of service.
For many of us, that has been the gnawing concern for years now. Little signs have fed the paranoia: charging $5.00 for the wine and cheese tastings in the parlor car which had been free, then bumping the price to $7.50. Next they cut out the wine tastings altogether; then brought them back, still at $7.50, but with plastic cups and no cheese. For a while, the parlor car attendant had a supply of souvenirs for sale, all featuring the Coast Starlight logo—coffee mugs, wine glasses, and similar items. Those are no longer available. Many of us took all that maneuvering as a sign of . . . well, we didn’t know, and we worried.
The parlor cars are elegant—maybe not for an earlier time, but certainly by today’s standards. There’s even a small theater on the lower level where movies are shown at night.
They were built in the 50’s by the Santa Fe for the famous “El Capitan” train that operated between Chicago and Los Angeles. Interestingly, the El Capitan was an all coach train, but the Santa Fe nevertheless provided these lounge cars as an amenity. There are only five left and they’re all used on the Coast Starlight and reserved for the exclusive use of sleeping car passengers. (Business Class passengers are admitted to the parlor car, but only for the wine tastings.)
When Amtrak first acquired and refurbished these cars, there were both practical and marketing reasons for the decision to employ them on the Coast Starlight. With a total of only five units, there weren’t enough for any of the long-distance trains with two-night itineraries. The Coast Starlight’s route between Los Angeles and Seattle is one overnight.
It was also thought that the addition of the Pacific Parlour Car would help to boost the Coast Starlight’s ridership and that was indeed the result. It certainly has been in my case. On more than a dozen occasions, I’ve gone out of my way and spent additional time and several hundred more dollars just to spend pleasurable hours in one of these cars. I’ve often met others who’ve said the same thing. It’s fun to imagine what one of these beauties would do to increase ridership on one of the other long-distance trains!
* Note: To add a touch of class, Amtrak decided to spell “Parlour” with a “u”. My Spell-Check keeps making the “correction” automatically and I finally quit fighting it.