Is Amtrak Going to Run Out of Sleepers?

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? And implausible. But a group of people belonging to a rail passenger advocacy organizations have been patiently gathering information—a tidbit here, a morsel there—which, even if only partially true, is cause for concern.

For example . . . 

In October of 2018, Amtrak had 428 Superliner sleepers in active service and six sleepers on “inactive” status, meaning they needed repairs or there was something else that makes them unavailable for regular service.

Two years later, in October of 2020, there were 407 sleepers available for active service and 44 cars were now on “inactive” status.

Now three years go by, it’s October of 2023, and the Superliner fleet has continued to shrink. As of five months ago, there were 380 sleepers available for regular duty with 62 of the big rail cars on inactive status. 

I know that sounds like that’s still a lot of rail cars—and of course it is—but it takes a lot of those Superliners to handle just one long-distance service. Remember that at any given time, there are four Southwest Chiefs operating between Chicago and Los Angeles—two complete trains heading in each direction a day apart. The total number of sleepers needed for that one train? A dozen.

Amtrak’s total equipment requirement is impressive: There are four trains that take two nights to reach their destinations: the Empire Builder (Seattle—Chicago), the California Zephyr (Bay Area—Chicago), the Southwest Chief (Chicago—L.A.), and the Sunset Limited (New Orleans—L.A.) 

And there are three other trains also using Superliner sleeping cars, all taking one night in each direction to complete their routes: the Capitol Limited (Chicago to Washington),); the City of New Orleans (Chicago to New Orleans);and the Texas Eagle (Chicago to San Antonio).

Although not quite to the same degree, there is a similar situation with the newer Viewliner sleepers.

 Will Amtrak begin running short on sleeping car equipment? More than a few members of rail passenger advocacy groups are concerned that this is indeed possible, perhaps even likely. 

Let’s all try to have a nice day.