Premiering in 1954, the San Francisco Chief offered First Class Pullman Sleeping Car and Chair Car accommodations daily from San Francisco to Chicago until 1971 when Amtrak eliminated 100s of passenger trains.
- Competing with the City of San Francisco and the California Zephyr, the San Francisco Chief soon became very popular in the 1950s and 1960s as Southern Pacific began downgrading passenger trains.
- The Bay Area and California cities cities such as Stockton, Fresno, and Bakersfield had streamliner service to Kansas City and Chicago with connections to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.
The Union Pacific and Southern Pacific operated the joint City of San Francisco and the latter 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 along with the unparalleled beauty afforded during the trip.
THE HI-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 by 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 making sure 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 and continued with modern equipment, accommodations, and service, with trains that were always on time right up until Amtrak took over intercity operations in 1971.
- For instance, the 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 and destroyed America’s great passenger system. In the 1950s it was tops in the world and 2022 it is basically a third world service.