The Santa Fe launched the San Francisco Chief in June 1954. The new California Express streamliner ran daily between San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Chicago. Pullman and Chair Car accommodations were featured, plus Dining Cars, Dome and Pullman Lounge cars traveling via Stockton, Fresno, Bakersfield, Flagstaff, Albuquerque, Kansas City, and Chicago joined Santa Fe’s other legacy trains: the Chief, Super Chief, and El Capitan.
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The Union Pacific and Southern Pacific operated the joint City of San Francisco and provided a bevy of regional services such as the Lark, Starlight, Shasta Daylight, and San Joaquin Daylight reaching the Bay Area, Santa Fe felt there was room for competition.
- They were right, and the San Francisco Chief soon became the best train east out of the Bay Area.
- The train was christened in a manner that had become rather standard on the Santa Fe with an Indian ceremony led by Hopi Chief Taptuka using holy water from the San Francisco Mountains of Arizona.
- The railroad also spent lavishly to advertise its new Chief. One particular piece noted that “Eastbound from San Francisco. Westbound to that storied city of the Golden Gate.
- Here’s the brand new way to go. Santa Fe, all the way. San Francisco Chief!” It went on to discuss all of the amenities the train offered and the unparalleled beauty afforded during the trip.
THE HIGH-LEVEL SAN FRANCISCO CHIEF
Two years later, in the summer of 1956, the railroad took delivery of more noteworthy equipment.
- Known as “Hi-Levels,” these double-decked, streamlined cars acted as full-length domes, providing another means of panoramic scenery from high above the train.
- These would eventually make their way to San Francisco.
The Santa Fe railroad spared no expense in ensuring its premier transcontinental trains were the epitome of luxury both inside and out, matching or exceeding anything the competition had to offer.
- After nearly four decades of service, it never wavered from this belief. It continued with modern equipment, accommodations, and service, with trains always on time until Amtrak took over intercity operations in 1971.
- For instance, Santa Fe held its Super Chief to such high standards that it kindly asked Amtrak to stop using the name after a few years, citing declining service.
When the Pullman closed in 1969 the Santa Fe handled all their own sleeping car services on the San Francisco Chief and their other important long-distance trains.
- The railroad, of course, was unflinching in its high service standards and the San Francisco continued offering Hi-Levels, a diner, Big Dome lounges, and a trio of sleepers (a pair serving Chicago-Los Angeles while the other ran the entire route) in its final years.
The San Francisco Chief made its final run on April 30, 1971, when Amtrak took over.