Video of Union Pacific Streamliners in the 1930s. Scene 1: CITY OF DENVER arriving in Chicago after making the 1,048 mile trip from Denver in 16 hours. Scene 2: E-2 diesels in 1938 pull the CITY OF LOS ANGELES passenger train in Los Angeles.

A Brief History of Union Pacific’s Passenger Trains:

Passenger service can be traced back to within a few decades of railroading’s first appearance on the American scene in the late 1700s. Passenger travel via train began in the 1830s in eastern markets, reaching midwestern lines in the 1860s. Union Pacific inaugurated its passenger service in July 1866.

Lounge Car aboard a Union Pacific Streamliner in the 1950s. 

THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES – on final run when Amtrak took over in 1971… Adios to deluxe rail travel.. 

The Union Pacific M-10000 City of Salina and the Burlington Zephyr 9900 Pioneer Zephyr at Kansas City Union Station, late 1930s. Photo credit: Union Pacific Museum

The first passenger trains were undeniably crude; they seldom travelled more than 20 miles per hour and meals were eaten quickly in station dining halls. Wooden benches were the standard seating accommodations and wood stoves furnished heat, while air conditioning was unheard of until the 1930s.

The City of San Francisco

In the beginning, there were even occasional wrecks, until the intricacies of traffic control were figured out. However, improvements and innovations soon began. George Pullman’s famous “hotel” sleeping cars were in service before the golden spike was driven, and dining cars followed soon after. Regular train service from Omaha to San Francisco was launched just five days after the driving of the golden spike on May 10, 1869, and before the turn of the century, innovations in design had produced a number of significant advantages in passenger travel.

One of the finest Union Pacific passenger trains was the Overland Limited. This luxury train, inaugurated in 1890, made the run between Omaha and San Francisco in just 71 hours. In 1921, passenger revenues reached an all time high. However, as the Twenties progressed and the automobile gradually came to be viewed as a necessity rather than a luxury, Union Pacific decided to take some drastic steps to bring ridership back to the rails.

The City of Salina

In the 1930s the introduction of the lightweight Streamliner passenger trains set a new standard for luxurious train travel. The equipment you enjoy today is a remnant of those lightweight passenger trains that began operation in 1934 with Union Pacific’s City of Salina. The Streamliners’ opulent furnishings, impeccable service and total comfort combined to lure customers back to the rail. Air conditioning, reduced noise, and a better ride distinguished these trains from the conventional steam-powered models. Over the next seven years, nine more streamliner sets were added to the passenger fleet.

Still, it wasn’t possible to maintain daily streamliner service between Chicago and the Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland areas until 1947. To offer daily service between three west coast points and Denver, in addition to the other daily trains already operating, involved a tremendous outlay of equipment and personnel. Each train required an engineer, brakeman, conductor, fireman, baggageman, car attendants, cooks, waiters, lounge car attendants and sleeping car attendants. Over the next couple of decades, however, Union Pacific made substantial additions to their passenger service equipment. Between 1946 and 1965, new purchases included 291 sleeping cars, 196 coaches, 112 diners and lounges, 16 dome coaches, 16 dome lounge cars, and 11 dome diners (unique to UP).

Additional equipment and enhanced service notwithstanding, 105 years of carrying passengers came to an end for Union Pacific on May 1, 1971. The end of passenger service for UP was not final, however. In 1992, commuter rail services put UP back in the business of hauling passengers once again.

Partial List of Union Pacific Passenger Trains

Overland Limited (in service 1897)
Los Angeles Limited (in service 1905)
Columbine (in service to Chicago and Denver, beginning in the 1920s)
Portland Rose (in service between Chicago and Portland, beginning in the 1920s)
Challenger (in service beginning 1935)

Streamliner Passenger Trains (in service from 1934-1971):

City of Salina (1934-1940)
City of Portland (from 1934)
City of Los Angeles (from 1936)
City of Denver (from 1936)
City of San Francisco (from 1936)
City of St. Louis

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