Coast Starlight

Coast Starlight
Coast Starlight
Coast Starlight.jpg
The Coast Starlight descends near San Luis Obispo.
Service type Inter-city rail
Status Operating
Locale Western United States
First service 1971
Current operator(s) Amtrak
Average ridership 1,217 daily
444,205 total (FY10)[1]
Start Seattle, Washington
No. of intermediate stops 29
End Los Angeles, California
Distance travelled 1,377 mi (2,216 km)
Average journey time 34 hours, 52 minutes
Service frequency Daily each way
Train number(s) 11, 14
On-board services
Class(es) Coach and Sleeper Service
Seating arrangements Reserved Coach Seat
Superliner Lower Level Coach Seats
Sleeping arrangements Superliner Roomette (2 beds)
Family Bedroom (4 beds)
Superliner Bedroom (2 beds)
Superliner Bedroom Suite (4 beds)
Superliner Accessible Bedroom (2 beds)
Catering facilities Fully licensed dining car
On-board café
Observation facilities Sightseer Lounge Car
Entertainment facilities Movies and wine tasting in the Pacific Parlour Car (Sleeping Car passengers only)
Baggage facilities Checked baggage available at selected stations
Rolling stock GE P42DC diesel locomotive
Superliner car
Budd Company Hi-Level Pacific Parlour Heritage car
Gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Track owner(s) BNSF, UP, and SCRRA

The Coast Starlight is a passenger train operated by Amtrak on the West Coast of the United States. It runs 1,377 miles (2,216 km) from King Street Station in Seattle, Washington, to Union Station in Los Angeles, California. The train's name was formed as a merging of two of Southern Pacific's train names, the Coast Daylight and the Starlight. These were two of SP's numerous Coast Line trains.

Major station stops along the route between Seattle and Los Angeles are; Portland and Eugene, Oregon, and Sacramento, Emeryville (for San Francisco), Oakland, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, California, and Santa Barbara, California.

During fiscal year 2010, the Coast Starlight carried a total of 444,205 passengers, an increase of 2.7% from FY 2009's total of 432,565 passengers.[1] The train had a total revenue of $37,404,114 during FY 2010, a 14.6% increase from FY 2009's $32,637,793 total.[1]



  • BNSF Seattle Subdivision (ex-NP, later ex-BN), Seattle to Portland
  • UP Brooklyn Subdivision[3] (ex-SP), Portland to Oakridge
  • UP Cascade Subdivision[3] (ex-SP), Oakridge to Klamath Falls
  • UP Black Butte Subdivision[3] (ex-SP), Klamath Falls to Dunsmuir
  • UP Valley Subdivision[3] (ex-SP), Dunsmuir to Marysville
  • UP Sacramento Subdivision (ex-WP/ex-SP), Marysville to Sacramento
  • UP Martinez Subdivision[3] (ex-SP), Sacramento to Oakland
  • UP Niles Subdivision (ex-SP), Oakland to Elmhurst
  • UP Coast Subdivision[3] (ex-SP), Elmhurst to San Luis Obispo
  • UP Santa Barbara Subdivision[3] (ex-SP), San Luis Obispo to Moorpark
  • UP/Metrolink (SCAX) Ventura Subdivision/Ventura County Line (ex-SP), Moorpark to Taylor Yard
  • Metrolink (SCAX) River Subdivision, Taylor Yard to Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal


The Coast Starlight menu cover.

Before the formation of Amtrak, no single passenger train ran the length of the West Coast. The closest equivalent was Southern Pacific Railroad's West Coast, which ran from Los Angeles to Portland, with Through car service to Seattle via Great Northern Railway. The primary difference between the West Coast and the Coast Starlight was the West Coast traveled via the San Joaquin Valley instead of the Pacific coast.[4] The Southern Pacific Railroad operated the Coast Daylight between Los Angeles and San Francisco and the Cascade between Oakland and Portland. The Southern Pacific also ran several overnight trains between Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay area - the all-sleeping car Lark on the coast route and the mixed coach and Pullman Owl on the San Joaquin Valley line. Service from Portland north to Seattle was provided by the Union Pacific, Northern Pacific Railroad or Great Northern Railway. After the 1970 merger of the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific into the Burlington Northern Railroad, service was provided by the Burlington Northern. Service south from Los Angeles to San Diego was provided by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway's San Diegans.

With the start of Amtrak operations on May 1, 1971, a single route was formed between Los Angeles and Seattle—and for a few months between San Diego and Seattle.[2] The unnamed train ran three days a week; on the other four days (northbound Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and southbound Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) another unnamed train ran between Los Angeles and Oakland (initially assigned 98 northbound and 99 southbound). Additional service was also provided between San Diego and Los Angeles and between Portland and Seattle (those became the San Diegan and Mount Rainier/Puget Sound on November 14). In the November 14, 1971 timetable, the LA-Oakland train received the Coast Daylight name that the SP had used for its LA-San Francisco train, and was extended to San Diego and assigned numbers 12 and 13. The San Diego-Seattle train received the new name Coast Starlight and became trains 11 and 14.

A few years later, the Coast Daylight was merged into the Coast Starlight, which was expanded to run every day. The Coast Starlight has since been truncated to Los Angeles, though frequent Pacific Surfliner service continues south. For a couple of years in the mid-nineties, the Coast Starlight sent 2 through coach cars from Los Angeles to San Diego as the last Pacific Surfliner train of the evening (#511). The coaches were then coupled onto the first morning train back to Los Angeles where they were re-coupled to the remainder of the Coast Starlight for the journey to Seattle. This was later discontinued because of the timekeeping unreliability of train #11. Instead, if train #11 arrives into Los Angeles prior to the final Surfliner departure, through passengers to Orange County and San Diego will take the connecting Surfliner train, otherwise passengers will be provided motor coach transportation to destinations south of Los Angeles (the motor coach option typically occurs with greater frequency than the train).

Until April 25, 1982 the Coast Starlight used Southern Pacific Railroad's "West Valley Line" between Tehama and Davis, California with a stop in Orland, bypassing Sacramento to the west. At that time it was rerouted to the line between Tehama and Roseville, east of Sacramento via Chico. In southern California, the Starlight had a stop in Glendale. This was later replaced with the current stop in Van Nuys which, unlike Glendale, has Amtrak staff for checking baggage. (Glendale USED to have an Amtak ticketing office, until Amtrak discontinued the Coast Starlight's stop there.)

On January 19, 2008, Amtrak suspended all service on the Coast Starlight on account of mudslides in the Chemult, Oregon area. On February 6, 2008, Amtrak restored rail service between Los Angeles and Sacramento, then filled the service gap between Sacramento and Seattle with Thruway Motorcoach service starting February 29.[5] As Of April 15, 2008, Amtrak restored much of the Coast Starlight service, with a temporary Thruway Motorcoach line running between Eugene and Klamath Falls. Because of the significantly shorter route, the Starlight north of Eugene temporarily operated without sleeper and diner services, with only coach class available to passengers, but checked baggage service was still available.[5] As of May 7, 2008, full service between Seattle and Los Angeles through Oregon was restored.

In recent years, the train acquired the nickname "Coast Starlate" because of its abysmal on-time record. From October 2005 through August 2006 the train delivered its passengers on-time only 2% of the time, with trains consistently running 5 to 11 hours behind schedule. This performance is likely a factor in the 26% drop in ridership between 1999 and 2005. Union Pacific Railroad (UP), who handles traffic on the route, and local rail groups dispute the causes of the poor performance. Rail groups blame Union Pacific for giving priority to freight traffic, while UP cites ongoing track repairs, among other issues.[6] Recently, Union Pacific has been giving Amtrak priority on its tracks. According to Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham, the "Coast Starlight" was on-schedule 86% of the time in May 2008.[7] Between October 2009 and September 2010, the Coast Starlight arrived on-time at its final destination 91.2% of the time.[8] In comparison, the Department of Transportation reports that national airlines ran on schedule 74% of the time from April 2007 to April 2008.[9]

During early summer 2008, the Coast Starlight was relaunched with new amenities and refurbished equipment. As of July 2008, the Pacific Parlour cars have been refurbished and are back in service as part of the relaunch. This was much anticipated, due to the vast success of Amtrak's "re-launches" of the Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle) and Empire Builder-Portland (Chicago-Portland). Between FY2008 and FY2009, ridership on the Coast Starlight has jumped 15% from 353,657 passengers to 406,398 passengers.

In the January 2011 issue of Trains Magazine, this route was listed as one of five routes to be looked at by Amtrak in FY 2012 and examined like previous routes (Sunset, Eagle, Zephyr, Capitol, and Cardinal) were examined in FY 2010.[10]


The interior of a Pacific Parlour car.
The PPC "Sonoma Valley."

The train uses Amtrak's double-decker Superliner I & II equipment, including a Sightseer Lounge car that has floor-to-ceiling windows to enjoy the passing scenery. The Coast Starlight is the only train on the Amtrak system that features a first-class-only Pacific Parlour lounge car, (formerly Santa Fe Hi-Level Sky Lounge cars, built in 1956 for ATSF's "El Capitan" service). This car offers amenities to sleeping-car passengers, such as complimentary beverages, a library and games, a formerly free[11] afternoon wine tasting and a movie theater in the lower level. For children, play equipment and other distractions are provided in the Arcade Room (formerly Kiddie Car). Baggage is placed in a Heritage Baggage Car. Rarely, Amfleet cars may be added to the train.

The locomotives typically used on the Coast Starlight are part of Amtrak's mainstay fleet, the GE P42DC AMD-103 Genesis series. Secondary locomotives that are occasionally utilized are some of Amtrak's GE P32-8 (Dash 8) locomotives. In the past, EMD F40PH, SDP40F, FP7, and leased Southern Pacific SDP45 locomotives were used.

In rare cases, EMD F59PHI locomotives from the Amtrak Surfliner and Cascades routes, as well as Amtrak California, are used. On even rarer occasions, Caltrain EMD F40PH and MPI MP36PH-3C locomotives are used on the Coast Starlight, either as substitutes or while being transported to or from repair jobs.[12] Sound Transit's Sounder commuter rail locomotives were also used on the route.[13]

References in popular culture

A second-season episode of The Big Bang Theory, "The Terminator Decoupling", largely takes place aboard the Coast Starlight.

In the 2003 remake of The Italian Job, the final scene takes place in the Pacific Parlour first class car.


  1. ^ a b c "AMTRAK SETS NEW RIDERSHIP RECORD, THANKS PASSENGERS FOR TAKING THE TRAIN (link to PDF download)". Amtrak. 11 October 2010. Retrieved 30 November 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Schwantes, Carlos A. (1993). Railroad Signatures across the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press. pp. 317–318. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Agreement Between Union Pacific Railroad Company and Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, effective February 1, 2000 (includes a list of subdivisions from the first post-merger timetable in 1998)
  4. ^ The Official Guide of the Railways. The Railroad Journal. January, 1947. Page 881, Table 112.
  5. ^ a b Amtrak - Inside Amtrak - News & Media - News Releases - Latest News Releases
  6. ^ Geiger, Kimberly (2006-08-08). "Coast Starlight Losing Its Luster". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2006-08-10. 
  7. ^ Engle, Jane (2008-06-11). "Amtrak’s Coast Starlight Train Classes Up Its Act". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Amtrak's Improvement Wish List", Trains, January 2011, 20-21.
  11. ^ "A daily tasting of local wines and artisan cheeses is available for a nominal fee in the refurbished Pacific Parlor Car."
  12. ^ Image of Caltrain locomotives on Amtrak Coast Starlight service
  13. ^ (HD)-AMTK #14 Leads the Coast Starlight #11 with a K5L and a Sounder F59PHI, 1/22/11 (YouTube video)

External links

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