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Home > Blog > Exhibit Train Blog, 2011-2012 > Oakland, November 12 and 13

Oakland, November 12 and 13

Posted by admin at Nov 17, 2011 04:20 PM |
As the popular Coast Starlight glided by the Exhibit Train each day, our thoughts turned to the joy of long-distance travel aboard our Superliner fleet—whose history can be traced through items on display.
Oakland station on Jack London Square
Superliner inagural event in Los Angeles, May 1985
Superliner I cars (1990)

Oakland station on Jack London Square

Superliner inagural event in
Los Angeles, May 1985

Superliner I cars (1990)

Original Superliner poster on display in the Exhibit Train
Superliner baggage tags on display
Superliner buttons on display

Original Superliner poster
on display in the Exhibit Train

Superliner baggage tags on display

Superliner buttons on display

Much like Sacramento, Oakland’s rail heritage can be traced back to the origins of North America’s first transcontinental railroad. In 1868, the Central Pacific constructed the Oakland Long Wharf at Oakland Point, the site of today's port. The Long Wharf served as the terminus for the transcontinental line as well as local commuter routes. In West Oakland, the Central Pacific also established one of its largest rail yards and servicing facilities.

Over the weekend, we were joined by volunteers from Operation Lifesaver, Amtrak’s K-9 unit, and local railroad clubs. The Western Railway Museum, located in nearby Suisun, also set up a display table. The institution, which got its start in the late 1940s, provides visitors with an opportunity to ride historic streetcars and interurban electric trains from all over California and other western states. The museum complex holds more than 50 vintage cars, railway-related exhibits, and a research library.

Oakland is a stop on the Coast Starlight, a long-distance train that runs the length of the West Coast from Los Angeles to Seattle. Among train aficionados, it often ranks as one of the most scenic rail routes in the world. From its windows, passengers have views of wildflower-blanketed meadows, the California coastline, and the soaring mountains of the Cascade Range. One of the most popular landmarks along the route is Mt. Shasta, the second highest peak in the Cascades; often snow-capped, it appears as a backdrop for many photos of the train.

Like most of the western long-distance trains, the Coast Starlight uses bi-level “Superliner” equipment. When Amtrak took over the nation’s intercity passenger rail service on May 1, 1971, part of the inherited fleet of cars included stainless steel Hi-Levels from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway (the “Santa Fe”). The name denoted that the cars had two floors. Passengers sat on the upper level while restrooms, baggage storage, and other service functions were located on the lower level. Constructed in the mid-1950s, they were used on the Santa Fe’s El Capitan, an all-coach train that ran between Chicago and Los Angeles. While the cars were operated by Amtrak, the company printed baggage tags declaring “I traveled the Hi-Level Amtrak way” and featuring a drawing of a Hi-Level. A pair of these tags is on display in the Exhibit Train, and if you look closely, you can see that the car still has “Santa Fe” written on its side. Another case has an HO model train that sports a full Superliner consist.

Within a few years of its formation, Amtrak decided to renew and expand the bi-level fleet, and in 1975 it put in an order with the Pullman-Standard Company for more than 200 cars. The old Santa Fe Hi-Levels were used as a model for the new Superliners, which are slightly larger. To celebrate the first batch of Superliners that entered service in 1979, Amtrak distributed commemorative buttons, some of which are found in the display cases along with related advertisements.

Sleeper, Coach, Dining, and Lounge cars make up the Superliner fleet. The Sleepers offer two-person roomettes and larger family bedrooms. On the upper level, Lounge cars have floor-to-ceiling windows that provide panoramic vistas, and the comfy seats are often filled with travelers chatting over a drink, playing games, or staring out the windows. Down below, a café is stocked with hot and cold drinks and plenty of sandwiches and snacks.

Sleeping car passengers on the Coast Starlight may experience a bit of railroad heritage aboard the Pacific Parlour Cars, which are converted ex-Santa Fe Hi-Levels. They provide a casual, yet elegant, space for travelers to relax with complimentary tea and coffee or to savor an intimate meal at a table dressed in white linens and flowers. Guests may peruse the library or enjoy a film in the theater on the lower level.

Well, as they say, the railroad never stops. This week we travel south through the fertile San Joaquin Valley on our way to Bakersfield. Hope to see you at the station where we’ll be open on Saturday and Sunday from 10-4!

--PK