Passenger Trains In The USA, A Guide To US Train Travel

Passenger trains are steadily becoming a very popular means of transportation in the USA once again. Their history and "Golden Age" have been well documented and covered in other areas of the website so if you are interested in reading about the history of train travel you can find links about such here. However, this section of the website looks to generally cover your train travel options today so if you are looking to take a trip by train information regarding such can be found here, whether it might be a long distance ride aboard Amtrak or a commuter train in your local area. Lastly, this page will be updated as new train routes are added or others are discontinued.

Amtrak's westbound "Empire Builder" led by a pair of P42DCs rolls across the open Northern Plains near rural Lothair, Montana on September 7, 2009.

A History of Passenger Trains, Before Amtrak

In the days prior to federally-funded Amtrak and other state commuter rail agencies now found all across the country, the primary means of rail travel came by way of the private freight railroads for both intercity and local services.  Included within these services was the classic interurban and streetcar systems, most of which went extinct by the World War II era.  Interestingly, even these operations are making a comeback.  In many ways the private services then were far superior than what you will find today with comfortable reclining-seat coaches, lounge services, and light-dining provided on some commuter trains while long-distance travel provided even great accommodations including full-service sleepers, five-star dining, club/parlor cars, domes for unparalleled scenic views, and much more.

Unfortunately, this "Golden Age" of rail travel quietly slipped away as the public abandoned trains for the freedom of the open road and speed of the airliner.  The era was also one of heavy regulation that largely dictated freight rates railroads could set and made abandoning unprofitable rail lines or discontinuing passenger trains virtually impossible.  Not surprisingly, several large carriers were in bankruptcy by the 1960s causing the federal government to step in and relieve railroads of passenger service, creating Amtrak in the spring of 1971.  To its credit the passenger road has done its best to maintain respectable service in spite of little Congressional funding year-after-year (usually slightly more than $1 billion annually, barely enough to pay the bills).  Featured here is a brief overview of all Amtrak's current trains and services (please note that some overlap).  They are broken down into railroad's regions.  To learn more about all of the carrier's services please visit their website.

California

Midwest

Northeast

Northwest

South

West

Amtrak Passenger Trains/Services

California

California Zephyr:  The legendary California Zephyr was made famous by the Burlington, Rio Grande, and Western Pacific which jointly operated it between Chicago and San Francisco.  Initially launched in 1949 it became popular for its fine accommodations, many domes for unparalleled scenic views, and friendly service.  Amtrak acquired the name in 1983 and while the CZ runs a slightly different route from the original remains one of the carrier's most popular long-distance trains.

Capitol Corridor:  The Capitol Corridor is a regional service providing commuter service between Auburn and San Jose via Sacramento, 168 miles.  It began during December of 1991 when funding from California allowed for a second sponsored passenger train to operate in the state.  Travelers also had the ability to continue southward to Stockton, Fresno, and Bakersfield via the San Joaquin. In 2000, things were further expanded with the addition of the Pacific Surfliner serving the state's southern coastal cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Luis Obispo.The Corridor provides only standard coach accommodations.

Coast Starlight:  The Coast Starlight operates between Seattle and Los Angeles utilizing the route long served by Southern Pacific's beautiful streamliner known as the Shasta Daylight, which ran as far as San Francisco/Oakland.  The Coast Starlight name first appeared in 1974 offering coach accommodations and Superliner sleeping services.

Pacific Surfliner:  The Pacific Surfliner first joined the timetable in 2000 providing regional, commuter service between San Luis Obispo and San Diego via Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.  It is funded in conjunction with the state of California and there are multiple train trips per day on the route providing business and coach class.  Additionally, bicyclists can bring their gear along.

San Joaquin:  The San Joaquin traces its roots back to the Southern Pacific's San Joaquin Daylight.  The train began service during July of 1941 and was eventually equipped with full streamlined status running between San Francisco and Los Angeles via Bakersfield.  It survived until Amtrak and was retained by the national carrier although soon truncated to only Bakersfield (a routing it still carries today) and renamed as the San Joaquin.  Today, accommodations include only reserved coaches.

Southwest Chief:  This long-distance train heralds back to Santa Fe's legendary Super Chief running between Los Angeles and Chicago via the Southwestern region of the United States.  Amtrak was forced to drop the Super Chief name in 1974 via a request by AT&SF due to declining service.  At first it was known as the Southwest Limited but in 1984 changed to the Southwest Chief.  The train still runs a similar routing as the original providing coach accommodations and Superliner sleeping services.

Sunset Limited:  This venerable train was the only of its kind for many years under Southern Pacific.  It originally began service in 1894 running between Los Angeles and New Orleans via Louisiana and Texas, no other railroad offered such a routing.  While the train's accommodations were always first-class it was many years before SP upgraded it as a streamliner, which finally occurred in 1950.  It was retained by Amtrak and later extended to Florida's Northern Panhandle albeit after Hurricane Katrina it was again truncated to its original routing.

Texas Eagle:  The Texas Eagle was a top train operated by the Missouri Pacific running between St. Louis and many points throughout the Lone Star State.  It first debuted in 1948 and survived, albeit with far fewer accommodations until Amtrak.  The name was revived on October 2, 1981 and today it operates between Chicago and Dallas/San Antonio with connections available to Los Angeles.  The train's accommodations currently includes coaches and a range of Superliner sleeper arrangements.

Midwest

California Zephyr:  The legendary California Zephyr was made famous by the Burlington, Rio Grande, and Western Pacific which jointly operated it between Chicago and San Francisco.  Initially launched in 1949 it became popular for its fine accommodations, many domes for unparalleled scenic views, and friendly service.  Amtrak acquired the name in 1983 and while the CZ runs a slightly different route from the original remains one of the carrier's most popular long-distance trains.

Capitol Limited:  The historic Capitol Limited was once the flagship train of the venerable Baltimore & Ohio, our country's first common-carrier system.  It first entered service on May 12, 1923 between New York and Chicago via D.C. (later truncated to Washington/Baltimore).  It was retained by Amtrak on May 1, 1971 and today operates between Washington and Chicago via Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Cardinal/Hoosier State:  The history of this train primarily traces back to the Chesapeake & Ohio's George Washington which began service in 1932 between Washington, D.C. with Cincinnati, Ohio.  It also follows the former routing of the New York Central's James Whitcomb Riley between Cincinnati and Chicago.  When Amtrak began both trains were kept at first but later dropped.  In 1977 it launched the Cardinal between Washington and Chicago.  Today, the train reaches New York but is not heavily patronized.  The Hoosier State complements the Cardinal as a regional running the 196 miles between Indianapolis and Chicago only.

City Of New Orleans:  This train gained acclaim with the release of Steve Goodman's song by the same name in 1970.  However, its history as a popular, long-distance service operated by the Illinois Central between Chicago and New Orleans heralds back to its inauguration on April 27, 1947.  It was retained by Amtrak and today runs much of the same route providing coach service and Superliner accommodations.

Empire Builder:  Just as in the days prior to Amtrak this train remains very popular operating between Chicago and Seattle.  The train was originally inaugurated in 1929 and was acclaimed for the scenic views it provided throughout the Pacific Northwest and across the Rocky Mountains.  It was streamlined during the 1940s and retained by Amtrak, today running via the Twin Cities and Spokane with a schedule of roughly two days to complete the entire trip.

Hiawatha Service:  This regional service provides connections between the Twin Cities and Chicago making several departures daily on the 1 hour and 30-minute trip.  The name heralds back to the Milwaukee Road's famous fleet of streamliners by the same name, the first of which served the same corridor.

Illinois Service:  This services covers five different regional trains Amtrak operates in the Prairie State that includes the Illinois Zephyr (Chicago-Quincy), Carl Sandburg (Chicago-Quincy), Lincoln Service (Chicago-St. Louis), Illini (Chicago to Carbondale), and finally the Saluki (Chicago to Carbondale).  All trains provide coach and business class accommodations while they also carry bicycles on-board.

Lake Shore Limited:  This historic train dates back to May 30, 1897 when the NYC first put it into service, the railroad's first full-service passenger train between Chicago and New York.  It remained in service until 1956 when it was canceled due to cutbacks and declining ridership.  Amtrak revived the name in 1975.  Today, it operates between Chicago and New York/Boston offering coach and Viewliner accommodations.

Michigan Services:  Amtrak uses the brand name Michigan Services to describe a series of regional trains which connect Chicago with several cities in Michigan. These trains include the Wolverine, Pere Marquette, and Blue Water and have were put into service after Amtrak began between the mid-1970s and 1980s. All three are historically significant and either were actually operated by a fallen flag railroad or its regional route is still in use (such as in the case of the Grand Trunk Western).  Today, the trains make multiple departures daily providing coach and business class accommodations.

Missouri River Runner:  This regional train has been operated by Amtrak since January of 2009 serving St. Louis and Kansas City.  However, the carrier has served the corridor since 1976 using such former names as the Ann Rutledge, Kansas City Mule, and St. Louis Mule which date back to the Baltimore & Ohio and Gulf, Mobile & Ohio years.  Today, the trains provide business and coach accommodations while offering bicycles to travel on-board.

Southwest Chief:  This long-distance train heralds back to Santa Fe's legendary Super Chief running between Los Angeles and Chicago via the Southwestern region of the United States.  Amtrak was forced to drop the Super Chief name in 1974 via a request by AT&SF due to declining service.  At first it was known as the Southwest Limited but in 1984 changed to the Southwest Chief.  The train still runs a similar routing as the original providing coach accommodations and Superliner sleeping services.

Texas Eagle:  The Texas Eagle was a top train operated by the Missouri Pacific running between St. Louis and many points throughout the Lone Star State.  It first debuted in 1948 and survived, albeit with far fewer accommodations until Amtrak.  The name was revived on October 2, 1981 and today it operates between Chicago and Dallas/San Antonio with connections available to Los Angeles.  The train's accommodations currently includes coaches and a range of Superliner sleeper arrangements.

An Amtrak Acela trainset is seen here in Old Saybrook, Connecticut on May 16, 2013.

Northeast

Acela Express:  Amtrak's fastest service operates at speeds as high as 150 mph in some locations while traveling between Washington, D.C. and Boston via New York and Philadelphia along the old Pennsylvania's Northeast Corridor while traveling the former New Haven east of New York.  The train has been in service since December 11, 2000 offering business and first-class accommodations.

Adirondack:  The Adirondack has been on Amtrak's timetable since August 5, 1974 operating between New York City and Montreal, Quebec via Albany and eastern New York.  The train offers coach service only, travels 381 miles, and requires 10-11 hours one-way.

Auto Train:  The famous Auto Train began as a private corporation by Eugene Garfield to test the concept of running a passenger service offering passengers the ability to transport their vehicle(s) en route along the East Coast.  It began operations on December 6, 1971 but was never particularly successful and stopped running after September of 1977.  However, Amtrak revived the service on October 30, 1983 and it still runs today between Lorton, Virginia (Washington, D.C.) and Sanford, Florida.

Capitol Limited:  The historic Capitol Limited was once the flagship train of the venerable Baltimore & Ohio, our country's first common-carrier system.  It first entered service on May 12, 1923 between New York and Chicago via D.C. (later truncated to Washington/Baltimore).  It was retained by Amtrak on May 1, 1971 and today operates between Washington and Chicago via Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Cardinal/Hoosier State:  The history of this train primarily traces back to the Chesapeake & Ohio's George Washington which began service in 1932 between Washington, D.C. with Cincinnati, Ohio.  It also follows the former routing of the New York Central's James Whitcomb Riley between Cincinnati and Chicago.  When Amtrak began both trains were kept at first but later dropped.  In 1977 it launched the Cardinal between Washington and Chicago.  Today, the train reaches New York but is not heavily patronized.  The Hoosier State complements the Cardinal as a regional running the 196 miles between Indianapolis and Chicago only.

Carolinian/Piedmont:  These trains are joint operations between Amtrak and the state of North Carolina.  The Carolinian is a long-distance, intercity service running between Charlotte and New York that began service in 1984 while the Piedmont is a regional train running between Charlotte and Raleigh only that initiated service in 1995.  Both trains have steadily grown in popularity over the years as the Tarheel State looks to continue growing its passenger rail services.

Crescent:  The Crescent heralds back to the days of the Southern Railway, which operated a luxurious train by the same name between New York and New Orleans that began service in 1925 as the Crescent Limited.  Amtrak acquired the train in 1979 and continues to operate it over much of the same routing as before albeit with fewer of the fine amenities as those provided by the Southern.

Downeaster:  The Downeaster traces its roots back to a train by the same name operated by the Maine Central between New York and Waterville/Rockland, Maine (the MEC spelled its version slightly differently as the Down Easter).  That classic New England railroad ended all passenger operations in 1960 although Amtrak re-inaugurated the train in 2001, providing regional service between Brunswick and Boston.

Empire Service:  The Empire Service connects the heart of New York utilizing the former New York Central between the Big Apple and Buffalo/Niagara Falls, a distance of 460 miles.  It has been operated since the day Amtrak began and sees strong ridership on an annual basis.  The train provides multiple departures daily providing coach and business class accommodations.

Ethan Allen Express:  This train certainly exudes a New England appeal operating between Rutland, Vermont and New York City a distance of 241 miles.  It first began service during December of 1996 but its routing loosely follows that of the Rutland Railroad's old Green Mountain Flyer and Mount Royal, which both served the same cities.  The train carries reserved coaches and offers business class accommodations.

Keystone Service:  The Keystone or Keystone Service plies the former PRR between Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and New York via Philadelphia along a route that is fully electrified (195 miles).  There are multiple trips made daily and only reserved seat coach accommodations is offered.

Lake Shore Limited:  This historic train dates back to May 30, 1897 when the NYC first put it into service, the railroad's first full-service passenger train between Chicago and New York.  It remained in service until 1956 when it was canceled due to cutbacks and declining ridership.  Amtrak revived the name in 1975.  Today, it operates between Chicago and New York/Boston offering coach and Viewliner accommodations.

Maple Leaf:  The Maple Leaf has been in service since April of 1981 operating 544 miles between New York and Toronto via Albany and Buffalo in conjunction with Canada's VIA Rail.  The train provides coach and business class accommodations.

Northeast Regional:  The Northeast Regional is an expansive commuter-type service Amtrak offers along the Northeast Corridor connecting all of the major cities between Richmond/Newport News, Virginia and Boston.  The trains run multiple times daily (please check Amtrak's website for complete details) and offer coach and business class accommodations.

Pennsylvanian:  Running the route of the PRR's posh Pittsburgher (among others) between Pittsburgh and New York, the Pennsylvanian provides far fewer services than that opulent train.  Amtrak has served the market since it began operations in 1971 but via different names over the years.  The Pennsylvanian was born on April 27, 1980 and currently runs daily providing coach and business class accommodations.

Silver Service/Palmetto:  These services actually comprise three trains, all of which have historical connections as Southern's Palmetto and Seaboard Air Line's Silver Star and Silver Meteor.  Today, all connect the Northeast with points in Florida and provide coach service, business class, and Viewliner (sleeper) accommodations.

Vermonter:  The Vermonter has been on Amtrak's timetable since April 1, 1995 when it replaced the Montrealer.  The history of the train's route between Montreal and Washington, D.C. was once operated by the Montrealer/Washingtonian, a longtime joint service between the PRR, Boston & Maine, New Haven, Central Vermont, and Canadian National.  Today, the Vermonter runs only between St. Albans, Vermont and Washington providing coach and business class accommodations.

Northwest

Amtrak Cascades:  This regional service first began in 1998 as the Cascades although for nearly 20 years prior there had been some type of subsidized service in the region (albeit not as expansive).  Today, the service, funded by Amtrak and Oregon/Washington reaches Eugene and Vancouver, British Columbia via Seattle/Tacoma.  The trains make multiple departures daily providing business and coach classes while also carrying bicycles aboard.

Coast Starlight:  The Coast Starlight operates between Seattle and Los Angeles utilizing the route long served by Southern Pacific's beautiful streamliner known as the Shasta Daylight, which ran as far as San Francisco/Oakland.  The Coast Starlight name first appeared in 1974 offering coach accommodations and Superliner sleeping services.

Empire Builder:  Just as in the days prior to Amtrak this train remains very popular operating between Chicago and Seattle.  The train was originally inaugurated in 1929 and was acclaimed for the scenic views it provided throughout the Pacific Northwest and across the Rocky Mountains.  It was streamlined during the 1940s and retained by Amtrak, today running via the Twin Cities and Spokane with a schedule of roughly two days to complete the entire trip.

South

Auto Train:  The famous Auto Train began as a private corporation by Eugene Garfield to test the concept of running a passenger service offering passengers the ability to transport their vehicle(s) en route along the East Coast.  It began operations on December 6, 1971 but was never particularly successful and stopped running after September of 1977.  However, Amtrak revived the service on October 30, 1983 and it still runs today between Lorton, Virginia (Washington, D.C.) and Sanford, Florida.

Carolinian/Piedmont:  These trains are joint operations between Amtrak and the state of North Carolina.  The Carolinian is a long-distance, intercity service running between Charlotte and New York that began service in 1984 while the Piedmont is a regional train running between Charlotte and Raleigh only that initiated service in 1995.  Both trains have steadily grown in popularity over the years as the Tarheel State looks to continue growing its passenger rail services.

City Of New Orleans:  This train gained acclaim with the release of Steve Goodman's song by the same name in 1970.  However, its history as a popular, long-distance service operated by the Illinois Central between Chicago and New Orleans heralds back to its inauguration on April 27, 1947.  It was retained by Amtrak and today runs much of the same route providing coach service and Superliner accommodations.

Crescent:  The Crescent heralds back to the days of the Southern Railway, which operated a luxurious train by the same name between New York and New Orleans that began service in 1925 as the Crescent Limited.  Amtrak acquired the train in 1979 and continues to operate it over much of the same routing as before albeit with fewer of the fine amenities as those provided by the Southern.

Silver Service/Palmetto:  These services actually comprise three trains, all of which have historical connections as Southern's Palmetto and Seaboard Air Line's Silver Star and Silver Meteor.  Today, all connect the Northeast with points in Florida and provide coach service, business class, and Viewliner (sleeper) accommodations.

Sunset Limited:  This venerable train was the only of its kind for many years under Southern Pacific.  It originally began service in 1894 running between Los Angeles and New Orleans via Louisiana and Texas, no other railroad offered such a routing.  While the train's accommodations were always first-class it was many years before SP upgraded it as a streamliner, which finally occurred in 1950.  It was retained by Amtrak and later extended to Florida's Northern Panhandle albeit after Hurricane Katrina it was again truncated to its original routing.

West

California Zephyr:  The legendary California Zephyr was made famous by the Burlington, Rio Grande, and Western Pacific which jointly operated it between Chicago and San Francisco.  Initially launched in 1949 it became popular for its fine accommodations, many domes for unparalleled scenic views, and friendly service.  Amtrak acquired the name in 1983 and while the CZ runs a slightly different route from the original remains one of the carrier's most popular long-distance trains.

Coast Starlight:  The Coast Starlight operates between Seattle and Los Angeles utilizing the route long served by Southern Pacific's beautiful streamliner known as the Shasta Daylight, which ran as far as San Francisco/Oakland.  The Coast Starlight name first appeared in 1974 offering coach accommodations and Superliner sleeping services.

Empire Builder:  Just as in the days prior to Amtrak this train remains very popular operating between Chicago and Seattle.  The train was originally inaugurated in 1929 and was acclaimed for the scenic views it provided throughout the Pacific Northwest and across the Rocky Mountains.  It was streamlined during the 1940s and retained by Amtrak, today running via the Twin Cities and Spokane with a schedule of roughly two days to complete the entire trip.

Heartland Flyer:  This regional train serves Amtrak's 206-mile regional market between Fort Worth, Texas and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  It began service on June 14, 1999 and makes a daily round-trip.  The train provides only reserved-seat coach accommodations.


A Pacific Surfliner trainset skirts the shores of the Pacific Ocean at San Clemente, California on January 8, 2009.

Southwest Chief:  This long-distance train heralds back to Santa Fe's legendary Super Chief running between Los Angeles and Chicago via the Southwestern region of the United States.  Amtrak was forced to drop the Super Chief name in 1974 via a request by AT&SF due to declining service.  At first it was known as the Southwest Limited but in 1984 changed to the Southwest Chief.  The train still runs a similar routing as the original providing coach accommodations and Superliner sleeping services.

Sunset Limited:  This venerable train was the only of its kind for many years under Southern Pacific.  It originally began service in 1894 running between Los Angeles and New Orleans via Louisiana and Texas, no other railroad offered such a routing.  While the train's accommodations were always first-class it was many years before SP upgraded it as a streamliner, which finally occurred in 1950.  It was retained by Amtrak and later extended to Florida's Northern Panhandle albeit after Hurricane Katrina it was again truncated to its original routing.

Texas Eagle:  The Texas Eagle was a top train operated by the Missouri Pacific running between St. Louis and many points throughout the Lone Star State.  It first debuted in 1948 and survived, albeit with far fewer accommodations until Amtrak.  The name was revived on October 2, 1981 and today it operates between Chicago and Dallas/San Antonio with connections available to Los Angeles.  The train's accommodations currently includes coaches and a range of Superliner sleeper arrangements.

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