Sunset Limited

Sunset Limited

Infobox rail line
name = "Sunset Limited"
color =

logo_width =

image_size =250px
caption = An eastbound "Sunset Limited" at the Houston, Texas, station in 2005.
type = Inter-city rail
system = Amtrak
status =
locale =
start = Los Angeles, California
end = Orlando, Florida
New Orleans, Louisiana (temporary)
stations =
routes =
ridership =
open = 1971
close =
owner = UP, BNSF, CSXT (track)
operator = Amtrak
character =
stock =
linelength = convert|1995|mi|km
tracklength =
notrack =
gauge = RailGauge|ussg
el =
speed =
elevation =
The "Sunset Limited" is a passenger train that for most of its history has run between New Orleans and Los Angeles, California, and that from early 1993 through late August 2005 also ran east of New Orleans to Florida, making it during that time the only true transcontinental passenger train in American history. From late August 2005 to the present, the train has remained officially a Florida-to-Los Angeles train, being considered temporarily truncated due to the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina. The FY 2004 Sunset Limited revenues showed that 41% of the revenues came from the Orlando-New Orleans segment. At first (until late October 2005) it was truncated to a San Antonio-to-Los Angeles service; since then (from late October 2005 on) it has been truncated to a New Orleans-to-Los Angeles service. As time has passed, particularly since the January 2006 completion of the rebuilding of damaged tracks east of New Orleans by their owner CSX Transportation Inc., the obstacles to restoration of the "Sunset Limited"'s full route have been more managerial and political than physical. H.R. 6003 currently under consideration (July 2008) in the United States Senate mandates that Amtrak provide Congress with a completed study which discussed how the route can be restored including realistic cost figures.

As of 2008, the train operates three days a week in each direction. It uses cars of Amtrak's double-deck Superliner fleet.__TOC__


The tracks used were once part of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, and the Southern Pacific Railroad; they are now owned by CSX Transportation, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, and the Union Pacific Railroad. The name "Sunset Limited" traces its origins to the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway, which was known as the "Sunset Route" as early as 1874.

The train uses the following route segments, identified here by the names of their original owners:

Timetable notes

Service on the "Sunset Limited" between Orlando and New Orleans has been suspended indefinitely due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina. At San Antonio the "Sunset Limited" and "Texas Eagle" trains are combined for the journey westward and split eastward.

A highlight of the trip is the crossing of the Huey P. Long Bridge just west of New Orleans. The bridge is the longest railroad bridge in the United States, at convert|4.5|mi|km; it takes the train convert|135|ft|m above the Mississippi River.



Prior to the start of Amtrak service on May 1, 1971, the "Sunset Limited" was operated by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The "Sunset Limited" is the oldest name train in the United States still operating, having held the name since its inauguration in 1893. The "Sunset Limited" was Southern Pacific's premier train, built for luxury first-class long-distance travel. Initially the Sunset Limited was an all-Pullman train, consisting only of sleeping cars and no coaches, running directly from New Orleans to San Francisco via Los Angeles. In 1924 the train received new all steel cars, replacing the old wooden cars. From its beginning in 1893 until streamlining in 1950, all the train's cars featured 6-wheel trucks and were painted in dark olive green with black roofs and trucks.

A typical 1895 consist included:
*A 4-4-0 American steam locomotive
# Composite Baggage car with barber shop, bath and buffet smoker lounge "El Indio"
# 7 Drawing Room Sleeper with ladies´ parlor lounge "El Piloto"
# 10 Section 2 Drawing Room Sleeper "El Dorado"
# Dining Car "Gourmet"
# 6 Section 1 Drawing Room 3 Compartment Sleeper "Cliola"
# 14 Section 1 Drawing Room Sleeper "Los Angeles"

A typical 1929 consist included:Fact|date=July 2008|Source of consist?
*A 4-6-2 Pacific or 4-8-2 Mountain steam locomotive
# Railway Post Office
# Baggage
# Buffet library baggage combination car
# 12-section, 1 drawing room sleeper "Brazos"
# 12-section, 1 drawing room sleeper "Calaveras"
# 12-section, 1 drawing room sleeper "Pecos"
# 12-section, 1 drawing room sleeper "Tontos"
# Diner
# 10-section, 1-drawing room, 2-compartment sleeper "El Monte"
# 10-section, 1-drawing room, 2-compartment sleeper "El Norte"
# 10-section, 1-drawing room, 2-compartment sleeper "El Occidente"
# 10-section, 1-drawing room, 2-compartment sleeper "El Oriente"
# 4-2 sleeper lounge observation "Sunset Beach"

A typical 1940 consist included:
*A GS-1 4-8-4 Golden State steam locomotive
# Railway Post Office
# Baggage
# Parlor Sleeper "Abington"
# 16 Section Tourist Sleeper "Catlin"
# 12 Section 1 Drawing Room Sleeper "Alamo"
# Coffe Shop Lounge
# Diner
# Lounge with barber shop, shower-bath and valet service
# 10 Section 1 Drawing Room 2 Compartment Sleeper "Lake Ariana"
# 10 Section 1 Drawing Room 1 Compartment Sleeper "Prior Lake"
# 8 Section 1 Drawing Room 2 Compartment Sleeper "Des Plaines"
# 6 Compartment 3 Drawing Room Sleeper "Glen Aladale"
# 6 Single Bedroom 2 Double Bedroom Sleeper Lounge Sun-Room Solarium Observation "Mission Santa Ynez"

In 1930, the route was cut back to Los Angeles and the train lost its all-Pullman status for the first time. After the Great Depression, in 1936, the train once again began running through to San Francisco and was also one of SP's very first trains to receive air-conditioning; in 1939, the train gained back its exclusive all-Pullman status. From 1939 to 1941 the train operated at its zenith, being equipped with air conditioning, featuring exclusively sleeping cars (All-Pullman status) and running the complete New Orleans to San Francisco routing via the magnificent coast line. The advent of the Second World War in December 1941 saw the train carry coaches again, and in January 1942 it was again cut back to Los Angeles. The "Sunset Limited" would never again be all-Pullman status, nor would it have the direct New Orleans to San Francisco routing.

The train was dieselized in late 1949, and upgraded to a streamliner in August 1950. The "Sunset Limited" was the last among the big American luxury trains to be streamlined, and in 1950 the train was reintroduced in a completely new look, featuring stainless steel cars, painted in silver with red letterboards and white "Southern Pacific" lettering. All cars except the RPO-Baggage (which had 6-wheel trucks) were built with 4-wheel trucks, and the last car of the train was a sleeping car with a blunted rear end, featuring a lighted neon-sign with the train name on the rear door. Until 1950 the train was pulled by 4-6-2 Pacific type and 4-8-4 GS-1 Northern type steam locomotives between New Orleans and El Paso, and by 4-8-2 MT-4 Mountain type and 4-8-4 GS-4 Northern type steam locomotives between El Paso and Los Angeles/San Francisco. Occasionally even some 4-10-2 Southern Pacific type and 4-8-8-2 AC class Cab Forward type steam locomotives could be seen pulling the train, especially on the western portion of its run. Steam on the "Sunset Limited" lingered until 1953, when there were enough diesel locomotives to provide steady diesel power to the train.

After dieselization, Alco PA A-A Unit diesel locomotives powered the train between New Orleans and El Paso, and EMD E7 and E9 diesel locomotives in A-B-B sets pulled the train between El Paso and Los Angeles. Between 1950 and 1958, the diesel locomotives pulling the train were painted in the Southern Pacific's "Daylight" scheme; later in the 1960s and 70s EMD F7 diesel locomotives in A-B-B-A sets and painted in SP's "Bloody Nose" scheme powered the train on the entire run.

A typical consist from the early 1950´s included:Fact|date=July 2008|Source of consist?
*An A-A Set of Alco PA-1 or an A-B-B Set of EMD E-7 diesel locomotives, both painted in Daylight colors
# Railway Post Office/Baggage
# Baggage Dormitory
# Partitioned Coach
# Coach
# Coach
# Coffee Shop Lounge "Pride of Texas"
# Coach
# Coach
# 10-roomette, 6-double bedroom sleeper
# 10-roomette, 6-double bedroom sleeper
# Diner "Audubon"
# Lounge "French Quarter"
# 10-roomette, 6-double bedroom sleeper
# 10-roomette, 6-double bedroom sleeper
# 10-roomette, 6-double bedroom blunt ended sleeper

A typical consist between October 1970 and April 1971 (the last months under Southern Pacific´s thrice-weekly operation):
*A A-B-A Set of EMD FP-7 units or a SDP-45 diesel locomotive, painted in the "Bloody Nose" scheme
# Box Car Baggage Express
# Baggage Dormitory
# 10-6 Sleeper
# 10-6 Sleeper (Southern Railway through car New York - Los Angeles via the Crescent Limited)
# Lounge "French Quarter"
# Diner "Audubon"
# Coach
# Coach
# Coffee Shop Lounge "Pride of Texas"
# Coach
# Coach

During the decline in the 1960s, the "Sunset" lost its "Limited" status, and more and more services on board were cut back, culminating in the elimination of the dining car, lounge car and all sleeping cars. By 1968, the once proud streamliner consisted of only three cars: a baggage car, a coach and an automat lunch counter car. The "Sunset" was even combined with the "Golden State" passenger train west of El Paso for a while. In October of 1970, the "Sunset" stopped running daily between New Orleans and Los Angeles, running only three times a week, but with full dining and sleeping cars returning across the entire run. This was the state of the train when Amtrak took control in May of 1971.


Amtrak retained the "Sunset" unchanged, while it dropped the "Gulf Wind", which was operated between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad (previously the Seaboard Air Line Railroad).

The tracks between New Orleans and Jacksonville remained unused by passenger trains from the Amtrak takeover until April 29, 1984, when an Amtrak train called the "Gulf Coast Limited", running between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, began service; this train only lasted until January 6, 1985. Almost five years later, on October 27, 1989, the track segment between Mobile and Flomaton, Alabama came into passenger train use as part of the route of the "Gulf Breeze", a new Amtrak train that was actually a Mobile section of Amtrak's New York-to-New Orleans "Crescent"; at Flomaton the train's route turned northeast towards Montgomery. The "Gulf Breeze" was discontinued in 1995. Meanwhile, on April 4, 1993, the entire New Orleans-to-Jacksonville route had gone into passenger train service with the extension of the "Sunset Limited" to Jacksonville and Miami, using the route of Amtrak's "Silver Meteor" south of Jacksonville. The train's eastern endpoint was later cut back from Miami to Orlando.

On September 22, 1993, some cars of the eastbound "Sunset Limited" derailed and fell off a bridge into water near Mobile, Alabama in Amtrak's worst train wreck, the Big Bayou Canot train disaster.

On October 9, 1995, saboteurs derailed the "Sunset Limited" at Hyder, Arizona, by removing 29 spikes holding a section of the track in place and short-circuiting the signal system. [cite news| publisher=CNN| url=| title=At least one dead, 100-plus injured in Amtrak derailment| date=1995-10-09| accessdate=2007-05-24| ] Eight of the 12 cars left the tracks, some rolling down an embankment. A sleeping car attendant was killed, and seventy-eight people were injured. The perpetrators have never been apprehended. A note condemning the FBI, the ATF, the Waco Siege, and a local law enforcement agency was found near the accident site. The note was signed "Sons of the Gestapo" - a name that, according to investigators, does not exist on any crime data file. It is widely believed the crime was perpetrated by a disgruntled rail worker who planted the note to mask the real motive. [cite news| url=| title=Fatal Amtrak sabotage in state still unsolved| publisher=The Arizona Republic| date=2005-10-09| author=Wagner, Dennis| accessdate=2007-05-24| ]

On June 2, 1996, the "Sunset Limited" was rerouted to a more southerly route between Tucson, Arizona and Yuma, Arizona, bypassing Phoenix, Arizona, in order to accommodate the Union Pacific Railroad's desire to abandon a portion of its Phoenix-to-Yuma "West Line". As of early 2006, however, the line had not yet been abandoned, and construction activities suggested that Union Pacific might reopen the line.

On August 28, 2005, the "Sunset Limited" route was truncated at San Antonio, Texas, as a result of damage to trackage in the Gulf Coast area caused by Hurricane Katrina. In late October 2005, service was restored between San Antonio and New Orleans, as the line through southwest Louisiana had by that time been repaired. As of 2008, some passenger groups are trying to push for Amtrak to restore service east of New Orleans.


*Mike Schafer, Amtrak's atlas, "Trains" June 1991
*Bob Johnston, Getting Ready for the Sunset, "Trains" March 1993
*Bob Johnston, At last, a transcontinental passenger train, "Trains" July 1993

External links

* [ Amtrak - "Sunset Limited"]
* [ Sunset Un-Limited - "Google group for advocates of restoration of the cross-country Sunset Limited route"]

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