California Zephyr

California Zephyr

Infobox Amtrak
name = California Zephyr | logo_filename =
logo_size =
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image_size = 300
image_caption = Having just arrived in Galesburg, Illinois, Train No. 5 — the "California Zephyr", led by GE Genesis P42DC locomotives #132 and #167 — "cools its heels" for a few minutes before continuing west on September 27, 2004.
map_filename =
map_size =
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numbers = 5 westbound
6 eastbound
route = Chicago, Illinois –
Emeryville, California
distance = convert|2438|mi|km
start = 1949
end = present

The "California Zephyr" is a 2,438-mile (3,924-km) long passenger train route operated by Amtrak in the Midwestern and Western United States.cite web|url=| format=HTML| title=California Zephyr| date=2007| publisher=Amtrak| accessdate=2007-08-18] 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, with views of both the upper Colorado River valley in the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Prior to the formation of Amtrak, the "California Zephyr" (the "CZ", or "Silver Lady") was a passenger train operated jointly by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q), Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) and Western Pacific Railroad (WP). The CB&Q, D&RGW and WP inaugurated "The most talked about train in America" on March 19, 1949. It was purposely scheduled so that the train passed through the most spectacular scenery in the daylight.

The original "CZ" ceased operations in 1970. However, the D&RGW continued to operate its own passenger train service, named the Rio Grande Zephyr, between Salt Lake City and Denver using the original equipment until 1983.

Since 1983, the "California Zephyr" name has been applied to a Chicago-San Francisco Amtrak service, which operates daily and is a hybrid route between the route of the original CZ and the route of its former rival, the City of San Francisco.__TOC__

The original "California Zephyr"

Before Amtrak operated a train with this name, the "California Zephyr" was operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad from Chicago to Denver, Colorado, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad between Denver and Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Western Pacific Railroad from Salt Lake City to Oakland, California. Trains ran with cars of mixed ownership; cars cycled in and out of the consists for service, repairs, and varying passenger loads with the seasons.

The first train was christened in San Francisco by Eleanor Parker while California Lieutenant Governor Goodwin Knight, Mayor of San Francisco Leland Cutler, and WP President Harry A. Mitchell looked on. 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, Hawaii. The women who worked as car hostesses on this train were known as "Zephyrettes."

The train traversed the route's 2,525 miles (4,064 km) in 2½ days.

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 (Conductor's 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 City
* 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. Early on however, this 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.

Generally positioned as the second Vista Dome coach was the car referred to as the "Conductor's Car". This car was like the other Vista Dome coaches, except in the B end, was a small booth with a bench seat and desk for the Conductor's use.

In 1952 an additional Pullman sleeper (6 double bedrooms - 5 compartments) 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, Nebraska. 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.


The "California Zephyr" was marketed (especially to families) as "...a vacation unto itself"." Train hostesses, while not new to the industry in the late 1940s, were nevertheless elevated to a new level on the "CZ" in the form of the "Zephyrette." The "Zephyrettes" functioned as social directors, tour guides, babysitters, nurses—in short, they filled just about any role required to ensure that the passengers had a memorable trip. A pool of approximately twelve women was assigned at any given time to the "CZ" in this capacity. In 1983 Amtrak revived the "California Zephyr" and invited one of the original "Zephyrettes" to host the first trip.

A pair of the Western Pacific's Budd Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs), operating as replacements for the discontinued "Royal Gorge" (trains No. 1 and 2) [] between September 17, 1950 and October 2, 1960 also picked up the nickname "Zephyrette."

Amtrak era

As ridership fell during the 1960s, the Western Pacific repeatedly petitioned the ICC to drop its section of the train west of Salt Lake City without success. On February 13, 1970, the ICC released an order stating that "operation of the train [on the Western Pacific] was no longer required". The train's final operation was made on March 22, 1970, with a westbound train terminating at Oakland, California. The "California Zephyr" had operated for 21 years and 2 days. East of Salt Lake City, the train was reduced from a daily to a tri-weekly schedule, operating as "California Service" on the Burlington and as the "Rio Grande Zephyr" on the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande portion of the train was extended beyond Salt Lake to Ogden, Utah, allowing Nevada and California passengers to connect to the Southern Pacific Railroad's City of San Francisco passenger train. This arrangement existed until the creation of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.

With the establishment of Amtrak in 1971, the new system began operating its "San Francisco Zephyr" over the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy route to Denver, and Union Pacific's "Overland Route" through Wyoming instead of Colorado, then over the Southern Pacific tracks west of Ogden, Utah.

The Rio Grande railroad initially opted out of Amtrak and continued to operate its section of the former "California Zephyr" as the "Rio Grande Zephyr." In 1983 the Rio Grande Railroad reversed its decision and joined Amtrak.

In July 1983, Amtrak ceased operation of the "San Francisco Zephyr" and launched operation of a new "California Zephyr" over the CB&Q and Rio Grande legs of the original train route. West of Salt Lake City, the route operates on the Western Pacific track to Wells, Nevada. From Wells to Winnemucca the CZ can operate on either the Western Pacific track or the Southern Pacific as directed by the modern owner of both tracks, the Union Pacific Railroad.cite map
publisher = Benchmark Maps
title = Nevada Road and Recreation Atlas
url =
edition = 2003
year = 2003
scale = 1:250000
series =
page = 41-44
section =
accessdate =
accessyear =
isbn = 0-929591-81-X
id =
] West of Winnemucca the modern California Zephyr follows the route of the former City of San Francisco on SP track.


* March 12 1949: Public exhibition of equipment that will be used on the "California Zephyr" begins in Oakland, California. The exhibition travels through along the WP portion of the train's route to Salt Lake City, Utah before returning to San Francisco, California 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 A. 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, California bound for Chicago, Illinois 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" through to the west coast leaves Chicago; the train terminates in Oakland. A remnant of the "California Zephyr" continues to operate Chicago to Ogden, Utah on the CB&Q and D&RGW on a tri-weekly schedule, with a cross platform transfer in Ogden to the City of San Francisco for through passengers to Oakland.
* 1983: The "California Zephyr" returns to service when the D&RGW agrees to join Amtrak.
* October 29 2000: Service on Amtrak's "California Zephyr" is upgraded to daily.

Route description

Heading westward from Chicago, there are many small towns along the right-of-way as the train crosses the great plains towards Denver.

The scenery changes dramatically at Denver as the train climbs the Rocky Mountains. After crossing the Continental Divide via the Moffat Tunnel, the tracks follow the Colorado River for several hours. Passengers can see the transition from a narrow, whitewater river (popular with rafters, who habitually moon the train as it passes) to a much wider stream past Glenwood Canyon and Grand Junction. The train finally departs the now much larger Colorado River after exiting Ruby Canyon which is also where the train enters Utah.

In Utah, the train follows the southern rim of the Book Cliffs to their end near Helper. The train then crosses the Wasatch Mountains, cresting at Soldier Summit. After passing the Wasatch the train arrives at the Wasatch Front where most of the population of Utah is located.

Once the train reaches Salt Lake City the train loosely follows Interstate 80 until the terminus of the train in California. Both the freeway and railroad pass along the south shore of the Great Salt Lake and across the Bonneville Salt Flats towards Nevada.

The Humboldt River provides the path across most of Nevada. However, before the train reaches the Humbolt river, it crosses through 2 mountain ranges, tunneling under the Pequop Mountains. Like all rivers in the Great Basin the Humboldt does not reach the ocean, but terminates in the desert. On the other side of this desert valley is the Truckee River which provides the train's path to Reno and up the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.

In California, the train crests the Sierra Nevada at Donner Pass and descends following a ridge between the American and Yuba Rivers. Eventually, the California Zephyr reaches the lowland areas of the California Central Valley. The trip terminates in Emeryville, a suburb of Oakland, where a free shuttle bus connects passengers to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. Passengers continuing to San Francisco transfer from the train to a Thruway Motorcoach which will take passengers to downtown San Francisco.

The original California Zephyr used the Feather River Route as its path through the Sierra Nevadas. The rails are still in use for freight; however, anyone wishing to see this portion of the original route must now use State Route 70 which runs parallel to the old Western Pacific track.

Communities served

The regular station stops of the 1949-1970 edition of the California Zephyr included the following communities, listed from east to west:
* Chicago, Illinois
* Galesburg, Illinois
* Burlington, Iowa
* Ottumwa, Iowa
* Mount Pleasant, Iowa
* Osceola, Iowa
* Creston, Iowa
* Omaha, Nebraska
* Lincoln, Nebraska
* Hastings, Nebraska
* McCook, Nebraska
* Denver, Colorado (where the train was handed off from the CB&Q to the DRGW)
* Glenwood Springs, Colorado
* Grand Junction, Colorado
* Helper, Utah
* Provo, Utah
* Salt Lake City, Utah (where the train was handed off from the DRGW to the WP)
* Elko, Nevada
* Winnemucca, Nevada
* Herlong, California
* Portola, California
* Keddie, California
* Oroville, California
* Marysville, California
* Sacramento, California
* Stockton, California
* Oakland, California
* San Francisco, California

Preservation and surviving equipment

The high quality Budd built cars of the "California Zephyr" have proven to be popular with private car owners. Today, several former CZ cars operate in private charter service on Amtrak, including dome-observation car "Silver Solarium", dome-coach "Silver Lariat", sleepers "Silver Rapids" and "Silver Quail" and a dome-lounge now known as the "Sierra Hotel".

Five museums currently hold equipment once used on the CZ. The Illinois Railway Museum owns several Burlington locomotives that were used to pull the train on occasion. The Colorado Railroad Museum has two Rio Grande locomotives that also saw CZ and later "Rio Grande Zephyr" service.

The Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Florida owns two former Western Pacific Railroad CZ cars: baggage car "Silver Stag" and dome-observation car "Silver Crescent".

The largest collection of preserved equipment can be found in Portola, California at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum. One locomotive and four cars are currently preserved there as part of the museum's Zephyr Project restoration program. Western Pacific 805-A is the last intact locomotive built specifically for the CZ. The cars are dome-lounge "Silver Hostel", dome-coaches "Silver Lodge" and "Silver Rifle" (on long term loan from the Golden Gate Railroad Museum) and the "Silver Plate", which is the last intact dining car left from the train's fleet.


A non-functional replica of the California Zephyr is located at Disney's California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, California. The train serves as the location of Baker's Field Bakery and Bur-r-r Bank Ice Cream counter service cafes at the Sunshine Plaza main entrance area of the park.




ee also

* CB&Q "Denver Zephyr"

External links

* [ Amtrak - "California Zephyr"]
* [ "California Zephyr" Virtual Museum]
* [ "California Zephyr" History]
* [ "California Zephyr" Museum Online]
* [ "Western Pacific Railroad Museum" - owns several pieces of CZ rolling stock]
* [ "California Zephyr" restoration effort]
* [ "California Zephyr's" 1949 schedule]
* [ "Amtrak's "California Zephyr": The Way West"] August 11, 2005 article by Dan Zukowski, author of "Why America Needs Amtrak: The Fight to Save Our Trains".
* [ Cars of the "California Zephyr"]
* [ Consist Information for the "California Zephyr"]
* [ "The History Behind the "California Zephyr"] article by David Lotz.
* [ The "California Zephyr" — Trains 17 & 18]
* [ The "Zephyrettes" — Trains 1 & 2]

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