Of all the many passenger trains that served Denver from the Midwest, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy’s Denver Zephyr was very likely the most popular. The train dates back to the earliest years of the railroad's streamliner era and despite competition from a handful of other lines it remained popular for several years. As with the CB&Q’s entire Zephyr fleet, the DZ (as it was commonly known) was clad in striking stainless steel and virtually every car
was domed (following the train’s upgrading in the 1950s) allowing for
maximum sightseeing across the Midwest and Plains. While the DZ survived the transition to Amtrak in May of 1971 it lasted for only a few years before being discontinued.
Two Burlington E7As with #9917-A on point hurry the Afternoon Zephyr past the depot at Chadwick, Illinois on August 18, 1964.
The Denver Zephyr came about because of the tremendous successes surrounding the Burlington’s original Zephyrs. However, unlike these first lightweight trainsets which were fully articulated the Denver Zephyr was a ten-car,
semi-articulated train that replaced the original #9900 and #9903 Budd products on
November 8, 1936. A few years after the train's debut two additional cars were added including a coach dinette and full-room sleeper giving it a consist which included a total of ten cars.
The train was an instant hit, in no small part due to its extremely
fast speeds, great scenery, and on board amenities (such as lounges, coaches, diners, sleepers, and a parlor-observation).
The train's entire route between Chicago and Denver covered exactly
1,034 miles and could be completed in just 15 1/2 to 16 hours with an
average speed of 64 to 66 mph (according to the CB&Q's official
timetable). For instance, departing Chicago Union Station at 5:30 pm
(Central Standard Time) the westbound DZ (Train #1) could arrive at Denver Union Station by 8:30 am (Mountain
Time) the next day. Also, if one so chose, connecting service with the
Denver & Rio Grande Western was available at Denver Union Station via the Royal Gorge reaching such location as Colorado Springs (Colorado) and Salt Lake City, Utah.
CB&Q E7A #9932-A and another E7A lead a very short Zephyr (exact one is unknown) past the small depot at rural Leland, Illinois on July 9, 1964.
The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy's original Zephyrs were built in conjunction with the then Electro-Motive Corporation Zephyr,
and the trains would revolutionize rail travel. These articulated
trainsets were streamlined, lightweight designs that would be powered by
the new diesel engine, which allowed for efficiencies far beyond what steam could provide. The first of these trainsets, cast in all stainless steel, was the Zephyr #9900 and after touring across the country made its famous nonstop trip between Denver and Chicago
in mere hours, an unheard of accomplishment for its day. Not
surprisingly this alone coupled with the trains high speeds made the Zephyr
an instant hit with the public and the Burlington would go on to order
several of these trainsets. Of course, the Burlington loved the
streamliners as well due to their extremely inexpensive costs to both
build and maintain.
Time/Leave (Train #1/Rio Grande "Royal Gorge" Connection)
Time/Arrive (Train #2/Rio Grande "Royal Gorge" Connection)
9:00 AM (Dp)
Denver, CO (Union Station)
2:50 PM (Ar)
F 9:38 AM
F 2:11 PM
Castle Rock, CO
F 10:01 AM
Lark Spur, CO
F 1:51 PM
F 10:06 AM
F 10:15 AM
Palmer Lake, CO
F 1:40 PM
F 10:21 AM
F 1:33 PM
10:45 AM (Ar)
Colorado Springs, CO
1:10 PM (Dp)
The train remained under its 10-car setup until October of 1956 when the train truly came of age. That year the Burlington completely reequipped the DZ (28 cars in total to operate two versions of the train) with domes galore built by the Budd Company featuring two “flattop” coaches, Vista-Dome counter-lounge (called the “Chuck Wagon”), Vista-Dome coach, dining car,
five sleepers, two Slumbercoahes (the first train ever to feature such
amenities), and a Vista-Dome observation. From a historical
standpoint, the 1956 reequipping of the DZ was the last, entirely new streamlined passenger train built in the United States.
(Thanks to Stephen Levine and Bill Haithcoat for help with the information on this page.)
In this view we see the rear observation of the Burlington's Nebraska Zephyr as it hustles westbound through Westmont, Illinois on May 20, 1962 (note all of the head-end equipment on the train).
The streamliner remained such a popular train that it was
virtually unchanged until 1968, when most other railroads were
substantially reducing their flagship train’s services or eliminating
them altogether as ridership was quickly declining. While some cars were cutback on the DZ
during the off-season and at differing times the train still remained
mostly intact through the end when Amtrak took over intercity passenger
rail operations on May 1, 1971. The Denver Zephyr was initially kept by Amtrak although it was eventually combined with City of San Francisco (itself renamed the San Francisco Zephyr before being named again as the California Zephyr and given the original routing of that famous train, which remains to this day) and eliminated.