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The California Zephyr is a 2,438-mile (3,924-km) long passenger train route operated by Amtrak in the Midwestern and Western United Statesmarker.It runs from Chicago, Illinoismarker, in the east to Emeryville, Californiamarker, in the west, passing through the states of Illinoismarker, Iowamarker, Nebraskamarker, Coloradomarker, Utahmarker, Nevadamarker, and Californiamarker. This route is one of the longest and most scenic routes run by Amtrak, with views of both the upper Colorado River valley in the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Prior to the formation of Amtrak, the California Zephyr (the CZ, or "Silver Lady") was a passenger train operated jointly by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q), Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) and Western Pacific Railroad (WP). The CB&Q, D&RGW and WP christened "The most talked about train in America" on March 19, 1949 with the first departure to happen the following day. It was purposely scheduled so that the train passed through the most spectacular scenery in the daylight.

The original CZ ceased operations in 1970. However, the D&RGW continued to operate its own passenger train service, named the Rio Grande Zephyr, between Salt Lake City and Denver using the original equipment until 1983.

Since 1983, the California Zephyr name has been applied to a Chicago-San Francisco Amtrak service, which operates daily and is a hybrid route between the route of the original CZ and the route of its former rival, the City of San Francisco.

The original California Zephyr

Before Amtrak operated a train with this name, the California Zephyr was operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad from Chicago to Denver, Coloradomarker, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad between Denver and Salt Lake City, Utahmarker, and the Western Pacific Railroad from Salt Lake City to Oakland, California. Trains ran with cars of mixed ownership; cars cycled in and out of the consists for service, repairs, and varying passenger loads with the seasons.

The first train was christened in San Francisco by Eleanor Parker while Californiamarker Lieutenant Governor Goodwin Knight, Mayor of San Francisco Leland Cutler, and WP President Harry A. Mitchell looked on. For the inaugural run in 1949, every female passenger on the train was given a corsage of "silver" and orange orchids that were specially flown in from Hilo, Hawaiimarker. The women who worked as car hostesses on this train were known as "Zephyrettes."

The train traversed the route's 2,525 miles (4,064 km) in 2½ days.

Equipment used

The passenger cars used when the train was inaugurated in 1949 were as follows:
  • Baggage
  • Vista-Dome chair car
  • Vista-Dome chair car (Conductor's Car)
  • Vista-Dome chair car
  • Vista-Dome dormitory-buffet-lounge car
  • Sleeper (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Diner (48 seats)
  • Sleeper (16 sections)
  • Sleeper (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms) — this was a run-through car to New York Citymarker
  • Vista-Dome dormitory-buffet-lounge-observation (1 drawing room, 3 double bedrooms)

The forward section of the first Vista-Dome car was partitioned off and reserved for women and children only. There was a door in the corridor under the dome just behind the women's restroom that provided access to the reserved section. Early on however, this reserved section was opened up to all passengers and the door and partitions were removed. Like the train's operation, ownership of the cars was split between the three railroads almost evenly across all car types. Each car was owned by a single railroad, but the ownership of the cars on any specific day's run of the train depended more on what equipment was available at the terminals than whose railroad the train was operating over at the time.

Generally positioned as the second Vista Dome coach was the car referred to as the "Conductor's Car". This car was like the other Vista Dome coaches, except in the B end, was a small booth with a bench seat and desk for the Conductor's use.

In 1952 an additional Pullman sleeper (6 double bedrooms - 5 compartments) was added to regular service on this train. With the new cars delivered that year, cars arriving in Chicago on the California Zephyr were made available for use on the Ak-Sar-Ben Zephyr for an overnight round trip to Lincoln, Nebraskamarker. When the cars returned from Lincoln the next day, they were placed back in the westbound California Zephyr's consist for the next train out of Chicago that afternoon.


The California Zephyr was marketed (especially to families) as "...a vacation unto itself." Train hostesses, while not new to the industry in the late 1940s, were nevertheless elevated to a new level on the CZ in the form of the "Zephyrette." The "Zephyrettes" functioned as social directors, tour guides, babysitters, nurses—in short, they filled just about any role required to ensure that the passengers had a memorable trip. A pool of approximately twelve women was assigned at any given time to the CZ in this capacity. In 1983 Amtrak revived the California Zephyr and invited one of the original "Zephyrettes" to host the first trip.

A pair of the Western Pacific's Budd Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs), operating as replacements for the discontinued Royal Gorge (trains No. 1 and 2) [57023] between September 17, 1950 and October 2, 1960 also picked up the nickname "Zephyrette."

Amtrak era

As ridership fell during the 1960s, the Western Pacific repeatedly petitioned the ICC to drop its section of the train west of Salt Lake City without success. On February 13, 1970, the ICC released an order stating that "operation of the train [on the Western Pacific] was no longer required". The final train departed Oakland, California on March 20, 1970, terminating at Chicago, Illinois on March 22, 1970. The California Zephyr had operated for 21 years and 2 days. East of Salt Lake City, the train was reduced from a daily to a tri-weekly schedule, operating as California Service on the Burlington and as the Rio Grande Zephyr on the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande portion of the train was extended beyond Salt Lake to Ogden, Utahmarker, allowing Nevada and California passengers to connect to the Southern Pacific Railroad's City of San Francisco passenger train. This arrangement existed until the creation of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.

With the establishment of Amtrak in 1971, the new system began operating its San Francisco Zephyr over the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy route to Denver, and Union Pacific's "Overland Route" through Wyoming instead of Colorado, then over the Southern Pacific tracks west of Ogden, Utah.

The Rio Grande railroad initially opted out of Amtrak and continued to operate its section of the former California Zephyr as the Rio Grande Zephyr. In 1983 the Rio Grande Railroad reversed its decision and joined Amtrak.

In July 1983, Amtrak ceased operation of the San Francisco Zephyr and launched operation of a new California Zephyr over the CB&Q and Rio Grande legs of the original train route. West of Salt Lake City, the route operates on the Western Pacific track (now part of the Union Pacific Railroad) to Wells, Nevadamarker. From Wells to Winnemuccamarker the CZ can operate on either the Western Pacific track or the Southern Pacific as directed by the modern owner of both tracks, the Union Pacific Railroad. West of Winnemucca the modern California Zephyr follows the route of the former City of San Francisco on SP track.


Route description

Heading westward from Chicago, there are many small towns along the right-of-way as the train crosses the great plainsmarker towards Denver.

The scenery changes dramatically at Denver as the train climbs the Rocky Mountains. After crossing the Continental Divide via the Moffat Tunnel, the tracks follow the Colorado Rivermarker for several hours. Passengers can see the transition from a narrow, whitewater river (popular with rafters, who habitually moon the train as it passes) to a much wider stream past Glenwood Canyonmarker and Grand Junctionmarker. The train finally departs the now much larger Colorado River after exiting Ruby Canyon which is also where the train enters Utahmarker.

In Utah, the train follows the southern rim of the Book Cliffs to their end near Helpermarker. The train then crosses the Wasatch Mountains, cresting at Soldier Summitmarker. After passing the Wasatch the train arrives at the Wasatch Front where most of the population of Utah is located.

Once the train reaches Salt Lake Citymarker the train loosely follows Interstate 80 until the terminus of the train in California. Both the freeway and railroad pass along the south shore of the Great Salt Lakemarker and across the Bonneville Salt Flatsmarker towards Nevada.

The Humboldt River provides the path across most of Nevada. However, before the train reaches the Humbolt river, it crosses through 2 mountain ranges, tunneling under the Pequop Mountainsmarker. Like all rivers in the Great Basin the Humboldt does not reach the ocean, but terminates in the desert. On the other side of this desert valley is the Truckee River which provides the train's path to Renomarker and up the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.

In California, the train crests the Sierra Nevada at Donner Passmarker and descends following a ridge between the American and Yuba Rivers. Eventually, the California Zephyr reaches the lowland areas of the California Central Valleymarker. The trip terminates in Emeryvillemarker, a suburb of Oaklandmarker, where a free shuttle bus connects passengers to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. Passengers continuing to San Francisco transfer from the train to a Thruway Motorcoach which will take passengers to downtown San Francisco.

The original California Zephyr used the Feather River Route as its path through the Sierra Nevadas. The rails are still in use for freight; however, anyone wishing to see this portion of the original route must now use State Route 70 which runs parallel to the old Western Pacific track.

Station stops

State Town/City Station Connections
Illinoismarker Chicagomarker Chicago Union Stationmarker Amtrak: Blue Water, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, Carl Sandburg, City of New Orleans, Empire Builder, Hiawatha Service, Hoosier State, Illini, Illinois Zephyr, Lake Shore Limited, Lincoln Service, Pere Marquette, Saluki, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle, Wolverine, Thruway Motorcoach
CTA Buses: 1, 7, 14, 19, 20, X20, X28, 56, 60, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 128, 129, 130, 151, 156, 157, 192
Megabus: M1, M2, M3, M4, M5, M6, M7
Metra: North Central Service, Milwaukee District/North Line, Milwaukee District/West Line, BNSF Railway Line, Heritage Corridor, SouthWest Service

Napervillemarker Napervillemarker Amtrak: Carl Sandburg, Illinois Zephyr, Southwest Chief
Metra: BNSF Railway Line
Pace: 530, 676, 677, 678, 680, 681, 682, 683, 684, 685, 686, 687, 688, 689, 714, 781

Princetonmarker Princetonmarker Amtrak: Carl Sandburg, Illinois Zephyr, Southwest Chief
Galesburgmarker Galesburgmarker Amtrak: Carl Sandburg, Illinois Zephyr, Southwest Chief
Iowamarker Burlingtonmarker Burlingtonmarker none
Mount Pleasantmarker Mount Pleasantmarker
Ottumwamarker Ottumwamarker
Osceolamarker Osceolamarker
Crestonmarker Crestonmarker
Nebraskamarker Omahamarker Omahamarker
Lincolnmarker Lincolnmarker
Hastingsmarker Hastingsmarker
Holdregemarker Holdregemarker
McCookmarker McCookmarker
Coloradomarker Fort Morganmarker Fort Morganmarker
Denvermarker Denver Union Stationmarker Amtrak: Thruway Motorcoach
RTD Light Rail: C Line, E Line
Frasermarker Fraser-Winter Parkmarker none
Granbymarker Granbymarker
Glenwood Springsmarker Glenwood Springsmarker Greyhound Lines
Grand Junctionmarker Grand Junctionmarker none
Utahmarker Green Rivermarker Green Rivermarker
Helpermarker Helpermarker
Provomarker Provomarker
Salt Lake Citymarker Salt Lake Central Stationmarker Greyhound Lines
FrontRunner: FrontRunner North, FrontRunner South
UTA Buses: 2, 3, 11, 205, 209, 220, 227, 240, 500, 520, 522, 550
UTA TRAX: University Line

Nevadamarker Elkomarker Elkomarker none
Winnemuccamarker Winnemuccamarker
Renomarker Renomarker
Californiamarker Truckeemarker Truckeemarker
Colfaxmarker Colfaxmarker
Rosevillemarker Rosevillemarker
Sacramentomarker Sacramento Valley Rail Stationmarker Amtrak: Capitol Corridor, Coast Starlight, San Joaquin, Thruway Motorcoach
Sacramento RT: Gold Line
Davismarker Davismarker Amtrak: Capitol Corridor, Coast Starlight
Martinezmarker Martinezmarker Amtrak: Capitol Corridor, Coast Starlight, San Joaquin
Tri Delta Transit: 200
WestCAT: 108, 116, 118, 119, 200, 30Z, 308, 980

Emeryvillemarker Emeryvillemarker AC Transit: 19 (In front of station), 57 (Stop accessible by crossing a pedestrian bridge across the tracks.)
Amtrak: Capitol Corridor, Coast Starlight, San Joaquin, Thruway Motorcoach
Emery Go Round: Bart Shopper, City Shopper, Hollis, Hollis North, Powell

Preservation and surviving equipment

The high quality Budd built cars of the "California Zephyr" have proven to be popular with private car owners. Today, several former CZ cars operate in private charter service on Amtrak, including dome-observation car "Silver Solarium", dome-coach "Silver Lariat", sleepers "Silver Rapids" and "Silver Quail" and a dome-lounge now known as the "Sierra Hotel".

Six museums currently hold equipment once used on the CZ. The Illinois Railway Museummarker owns several Burlington locomotives that were used to pull the train on occasion. The Colorado Railroad Museummarker has two Rio Grande locomotives that also saw CZ and later Rio Grande Zephyr service.

The Gold Coast Railroad Museummarker in Floridamarker owns two former Western Pacific Railroad CZ cars: baggage car "Silver Stag" and dome-observation car "Silver Crescent".

The Avon Park Depot Museum in Floridamarker owns one former Western Pacific Railroad CZ car: Silver Palm originally a sleeper car, it is now a buffet dining car that the museum uses for dinner parties. The car was converted to its buffet car state by Auto-Train when they bought the car. More information about the Silver Palm can be found at

The largest collection of preserved equipment can be found in Portola, Californiamarker at the Western Pacific Railroad Museummarker. One locomotive and four cars are currently preserved there as part of the museum's Zephyr Projectmarker restoration program. Western Pacific 805-A is the last intact locomotive built specifically for the CZ. The cars are dome-lounge "Silver Hostel", dome-coaches "Silver Lodge" and "Silver Rifle" (on long term loan from the Golden Gate Railroad Museummarker) and the "Silver Plate", which is the last intact dining car left from the train's fleet.


A non-functional replica of the California Zephyr is located at Disney's California Adventuremarker theme park in Anaheim, Californiamarker. The train serves as the location of Baker's Field Bakery and Bur-r-r Bank Ice Cream counter service cafes at the Sunshine Plaza main entrance area of the park.


Image:Z-6352.jpg|Two California Zephyr express trains meet at a railroad siding (Grizzly) in Garfield County, Coloradomarker beside the Colorado Rivermarker on March 21, 1949. The Denver and Rio Grande Western locomotives and passenger cars travel in opposite directions on parallel tracks. Placards on the dome cars read "Silver Hostel" and "Silver Pony." The "Silver Hostel" is today preserved and under restoration at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum.Image:California Zephyr.jpg|"Drumhead" logos such as this often adorned the ends of observation cars on the California Zephyr.Image:California Zephyr pre-inaugural brochure cover.jpg|This cover of a pre-inaugural brochure for the California Zephyr features a cutaway view of the train's famed "Vista Domes."Image:California-Zephyr-MaricopaAZ.JPG|California Zephyr railcar located at the Amtrak station in Maricopa, Arizonamarker the railcar reads "Silver Horizon".

See also


External links

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