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The "North Coast Limited": NP's Flagship Streamliner

Last revised: April 17, 2024

By: Adam Burns

Northern Pacific’s North Coast Limited was one of three famous Pacific Northwest passenger trains (Great Northern’s regal Empire Builder and Milwaukee Road’s exotic Olympian Hiawatha).

While the Empire Builder may have been the al le crème of Pacific Northwest passenger services, the NCL was certainly a close second.

The Milwaukee Road spent much time, effort, and money promoting its luxurious Olympian Hi.

However, with demand in rail travel waning, the railroad three in the towel early, bowing out of the Pacific Northwest market in 1961, ten years before Amtrak. 

The NCL was one of the oldest named passenger trains in the country before it was discontinued on April 30, 1971. 

The following day Amtrak acquired most intercity passenger services and elected not to continue the North Coast Limited (for a time the carrier did operate a similar service, the North Coast Hiawatha).

Northern Pacific's flagship "North Coast Limited," hustles westbound through Montana's Jefferson River Canyon led by F3A #6502-A. Note that an ABS signal guarding Milwaukee Road's Pacific Extension can be seen in the background. The two railroads followed each other closely along this stretch of the river. Author's collection


The Northern Pacific was the first of the three major Pacific Northwest to be completed.

The Northern Pacific has its roots dating to the summer of 1864 when President Lincoln signed the railroad’s creation by an Act of Congress and the Northern Pacific Railroad Company was born.

Construction began seven years later, in 1870, and would roughly follow the expedition of Lewis and Clark who originally chartered the western territory in the early 19th century.

A Northern Pacific publicity photo of train #25, the westbound "North Coast Limited," climbing out of Missoula, Montana during the 1960's. Author's collection.

While the NCL was always the Northern Pacific’s flagship train between Chicago and Seattle, the train truly came of age in the streamliner era.

In 1944 the railroad placed a large order from Pullman-Standard for lightweight, streamlined equipment worth a staggering $65 million.

The new cars allowed Northern Pacific to run six trains, three in each direction, completely streamlined with head-end power provided by Electro-Motive F series locomotives.

Northern Pacific F7A #6510-C leads the "North Coast Limited" over the Continental Divide east of Butte, Montana in 1964. Author's collection.

The train was given a stunning livery designed by Raymond Loewy of two-tone green and white trim.  Inside, the train played on regional themes with breathtaking scenery of the Cascades and Northern Plains.

These images were further enhanced by the panoramic views afforded by the Vista-Dome cars, which arrived in the fall of 1954.

Timetable (1952)

These features, coupled with the railroad slicing transit times down by 12-hours, allowed it to become very competitive with Great Northern's Empire Builder

One way in which the railroad accomplished this was by debuting a new train, the Mainstreeter, which handled more local stops while the NCL was free to provide a limited stop run between Chicago and Seattle. 

The Northern Pacific continued to add additional equipment to the NCL through the late 1950s by purchasing Slumbercoaches from the Budd Company.

An A-B-B set of Northern Pacific F3's with the "North Coast Limited" along Cocolalla Lake, Idaho in 1952. Author's collection.

These new accommodations offered economical options for those who either could not or did want to afford first-class service. 

The train also provided connecting service to Portland, Oregon at Pasco, Washington via subsidiary Spokane, Portland, & Seattle.  

Timetable (1969)

Read Down Time/Leave (Train #25/Chicago, Burlington & Quincy) Milepost Location Read Up
Time/Arrive (Train #26/Chicago, Burlington & Quincy)
1:00 PM (Dp)0.0
Chicago, IL (Union Station) (CT)
2:55 PM (Ar)
1:39 PM38
Aurora, IL
2:12 PM
2:16 PM83
Rochelle, IL
1:31 PM
2:29 PM98
Oregon, IL
1:16 PM
3:16 PM145
Savanna, IL
12:35 PM
3:55 PM186
East Dubuque, IL
11:49 AM
4:43 PM239
Prairie du Chien, WI
11:03 AM
5:29 PM297
La Crosse, WI
10:16 AM
6:03 PM328
Winona Junction, MN
9:40 AM
8:00 PM (Ar)427
St. Paul, MN
8:10 AM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #25/Northern Pacific) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #26/Northern Pacific)
8:25 PM (Dp)0.0
St. Paul, MN
7:30 AM (Ar)
8:50 PM (Ar)11
Minneapolis, MN
7:05 AM (Dp)
9:00 PM (Dp)11
Minneapolis, MN
7:00 AM (Ar)
11:00 PM (Ar)141
Staples, MN
4:37 AM (Dp)
11:05 PM (Dp)141
Staples, MN
4:33 AM (Ar)
12:53 AM (Ar)252
Fargo, ND
2:32 AM (Dp)
1:03 AM (Dp)252
Fargo, ND
2:27 AM (Ar)
1:53 AM310
Valley City, ND
1:29 AM
2:32 AM (Ar)344
Jamestown, ND
12:56 AM (Dp)
2:42 AM (Dp)344
Jamestown, ND
12:52 AM (Ar)
4:15 AM (Ar)446
Bismarck, ND
11:07 PM (Dp)
4:15 AM (Dp)446
Bismarck, ND
11:07 PM (Ar)
4:32 AM (Ar)451
Mandan, ND (CT)
10:56 PM (Dp)
4:42 AM (Dp)451
Mandan, ND (CT)
10:51 PM (Ar)
3:42 AM (Dp)451
Mandan, ND (MT)
9:51 PM (Ar)
5:23 AM (Ar)552
Dickinson, ND
8:07 PM (Dp)
5:29 AM (Dp)552
Dickinson, ND
8:04 PM (Ar)
7:17 AM (Ar)657
Glendive, MT
6:09 PM (Dp)
7:27 AM (Dp)657
Glendive, MT
6:04 PM (Ar)
8:43 AM736
Miles City, MT
4:38 PM
9:41 AM (Ar)781
Forsyth, MT
3:50 PM (Dp)
9:44 AM (Dp)781
Forsyth, MT
3:47 PM (Ar)
11:24 AM (Ar)883
Billings, MT (Bus Connection To Yellowstone National Park Via Mammoth.)
2:05 PM (Dp)
11:34 AM (Dp)883
Billings, MT (Bus Connection To Yellowstone National Park Via Mammoth.)
1:58 PM (Ar)
1:32 PM (Ar)999
Livingston, MT (Bus Connection To Yellowstone National Park Via Mammoth.)
12:01 PM (Dp)
1:42 PM (Dp)999
Livingston, MT (Bus Connection To Yellowstone National Park Via Mammoth.)
11:51 AM (Ar)
2:27 PM (Ar)1023
Bozeman, MT
11:06 AM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #25/Via Butte) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #26/Via Butte)
2:27 PM (Dp)1047
Bozeman, MT
11:06 AM (Ar)
4:54 PM (Ar)1118
Butte, MT
8:40 AM (Dp)
5:01 PM (Dp)1118
Butte, MT
8:35 AM (Ar)
F 5:45 PM1159
Deer Lodge, MT
F 7:39 AM
6:00 PM (Ar)1170
Garrison, MT
7:24 AM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #25) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #26)
6:01 PM (Dp)1170
Garrison, MT
7:24 AM (Ar)
7:07 PM (Ar)1238
Missoula, MT
6:13 AM (Dp)
7:17 PM (Dp)1238
Missoula, MT
6:03 AM (Ar)
8:53 PM (Ar)1309
Paradise, MT (MT)
4:17 AM (Dp)
7:56 PM (Dp)1309
Paradise, MT (PT)
3:14 AM (Ar)
9:59 PM1428
Sandpoint, ID
12:55 AM
11:17 PM (Ar)1496
Spokane, WA
11:44 PM (Dp)
11:30 PM (Dp)1496
Spokane, WA
11:29 PM (Ar)
2:15 AM (Ar)1642
Pasco, WA
8:49 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Portland Section/Spokane, Portland & Seattle) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Portland Section/Spokane, Portland & Seattle)
2:45 AM (Dp)1642
Pasco, WA
7:00 PM (Ar)
6:30 AM1864
Vancouver, WA
3:22 PM
7:00 AM (Ar)1874
Portland, OR (Union Station)
3:00 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #25) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #26)
2:40 AM (Dp)1642
Pasco, WA
8:24 PM (Ar)
4:35 AM (Ar)1731
Yakima, WA
6:49 PM (Dp)
4:39 AM (Dp)1731
Yakima, WA
6:44 PM (Ar)
5:34 AM1768
Ellensburg, WA
5:40 PM
8:02 AM (Ar)1869
East Auburn, WA
3:05 PM (Dp)
8:09 AM (Dp)1869
East Auburn, WA
2:59 PM (Ar)
8:45 AM (Ar)1892
Seattle, WA (King Street Station)
2:30 PM (Dp)

One of the train's best remembered traits was simply the food itself.  Its "Great Big Baked Potato" was legendary and one of the NCL's best selling food items. 

The NP's attempt to revitalize the train in the late 1940s and 1950s proved quite successful, so much so that the NCL continued to show very healthy ridership numbers through the mid-1960s!

Of course, it also didn’t hurt that the train ran through Yellowstone National Park with a station stop at Livingston, Montana.

Consist (1952)

Alas, however, with passenger operation costs rising through the 1960s, the NCL’s days were  numbered.

Earlier, in 1961, the Milwaukee Road had already bowed out of the Northwest passenger market when it canceled its posh Olympian Hiawatha. For more information about the train please click here.

In this Northern Pacific publicity photo the "North Coast Limited" traverses westbound along the west slope of Bozeman Pass between Gordon and Chestnut, Montana during the 1960's. Author's collection.

Final Years

Later that decade, the NCL and Empire Builder, were merged east of St. Paul, Minnesota under the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.

When Amtrak took over all intercity passenger operations in 1971 then-Burlington Northern was more than happy to rid itself of its remaining passenger responsibilities.  As a result, the fabled North Coast Limited made its final departures on April 30, 1971.

Because both trains operated in the same market, Amtrak elected to continue operating the much more popular Empire Builder, thus shelving the NCL upon its start-up on May 1.

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