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Superliner and High-Level Equipment

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Amtrak's high-level Superliner cars were inspired by the Santa Fe's unique high-level Budd cars used on its El Capitan train beginning in 1956.  As with the El Cap cars, The diaphragms are located at the upper level, making them incompatible with standard passenger cars without the use of a "transition" car, i.e. one with a low-mounted diaphragm on one end.

Superliner cars were delivered in two major groups.  The first batch, built by Pullman-Standard, began arriving in 1979 and are now referred to as Superliner I or S1. The second order was built in 1993-94 by Bombardier, and are known as Superliner II or S2.  They are used primarily on the Western long-distance trains (i.e. Empire Builder, California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited), in California, and on the Auto Train.  They (and variants) also show up on California Surfliner trains.

A convenient spotting feature is the trucks.  The S1 equipment all came on coil-spring trucks (initially with airbags in the coil).  These trucks have an unconventional look to them, and much of the wheel face is exposed.  The S2's, on the other hand, have trucks of more conventional construction with prominent low-hanging sideframes.

There are five main types of cars, with a couple of variations within type: coaches, sleepers, transition sleepers, diners, and lounges. The transition sleepers all arrived with the S2 order, as they were built to replace the aging El Cap transition cars.

Quick Spotting Tips

At a distance, Superliners look pretty much the same. However, there are some things to look for to aid you in identification.

  • S1 or S2? A convenient spotting feature is the trucks.  The S1 equipment all came on coil-spring trucks (initially with airbags in the coil).  These trucks have an unconventional look to them, and much of the wheel face is exposed.  The S2's, on the other hand, have trucks of more conventional construction with prominent low-hanging sideframes, and a triangular stabilizer structure hanging down from the car sill.

  • If there is a lot of glass above the main line of windows, it's a lounge. End of story.

  • If there is a large blank space between the windows at the center of the car-- two window-widths of metal-- it's a diner. (Sometimes there will be windows here that have been blanked over, for some early conversions, but I haven't seen a car like this in a very long time.)  Diners also have no windows on the lower level.

  • If there is a small gap in the middle of the car and a single small window at one end, this is a transition sleeper. This car will also nearly always be at the front of the train, just behind the baggage. It also has its end diaphragm on the lower level at the same end where the small window is.

  • If there are windows on both sides of the door on the lower level (and it's not a LOUNGE), then it's a sleeper. Some S1 sleepers also have a half-window blanked on one side of the upper level.

  • Everything else is a coach of some kind.  An additional large door in the side indicates a Coach/Baggage, and the lower windows will be blanked as of this point in time.

  • All other coaches have a group of windows on the lower level, either right or left of the door, but not both.

Keep in mind that all cars have a window in the entry doors on the lower level. Ignore these for spotting purposes.

Hope this summary helps!

 C  O  A  C  H  E  S  and  C O A C H / B A G G A G E  C A R S

Coaches and coach/baggage cars are in the following number series.

S1 Coach/Baggages: 31000-31047
S1 Coaches: 34000-34101
S2 Coaches: 34102-34139

Coach/Baggage 31013. It wears Phase IVb.  See comments for 31027, which also apply here.

Top: at Gallup on train No. 4, 9/24/2011. 

Bottom: opposite side, at Denver on train No. 5, 12/16/2014.

Coach/Baggage 31027, westbound at Clay (base of the Front Range) on 12/6/2008.  An S1, of course-- all the coach/smokers started out as coach/baggages, but were later modified with installation of seats in the baggage area, which was then designated as a smoking room. Now that smoking is no longer allowed anywhere on the train, these cars have been converted back to their original baggage function on the lower level.  Note that the lower windows have been blanked, as originally configured.  Note the large door opening on the side.

Coach/Baggage 31040 in Albuquerque on 2/26/2009.  Note that it's still wearing standard Phase IV lettering, and is labeled as "Coach Smoker", but has actually been modified back to a coach/baggage configuration.
 Coach/Smoker** 31523, shown at Glenwood Springs on 11/30/2002.

** During the time these cars were configured as coach/smokers, they were renumbered into the 31500 series (changed the middle digit in the number). After this conversion was undone, the numbers reverted to their original designations.

Another view of coach/smoker 31523.  A Superliner I built as coach/baggage car No. 31023, this coach was classified as a Super Smoker at time of photo. Note the lower windows have glass in them.  It's in original Phase IV lettering.
Coach 34027, an S1, oblique view.  It's eastbound at Palisade, CO on 4/28/2014.
S1 Coach No. 34056, in Denver, train No. 5, 12/16/2014.
S1 Coach No. 34062 is seen on the California Zephyr at Grand Junction, CO on 1/05/2006.  On this day the train was being run as a stub operation west of Denver, turning at Grand Junction, and as such was run without sleepers, baggage car, or lounge.  Three coaches and a diner behind two P42DC's were the entire train.  The announced reason was because of  flooding in California, although why they didn't run through to Salt Lake was not explained to me.
S1 Coach 34075, last car on the Southwest Chief in Albuquerque on 2/7/2010. 
S1 Coach 34090, at Albuquerque on 2/26/2009.  Wearing Phase IVb.
S2 coach 34120, at Gallup on 9/24/2011.  Phase IVb stripes.
S2 coach 34133, on train No. 5 on 12/16/2014.
S2 coach 34134, at Gallup on 9/24/2011.  Phase IVb stripes.


S  L  E  E  P  E  R  S

Sleepers were delivered in in the following series.

S1: 32000-32069
S2: 32070-32118
S2 Deluxe Sleeper: 32500-32505
S2 Transition Sleeper: 39000-39046

S1 sleeper 32042, in Albuquerque on 2/26/2009.  It seems to have had some kind of repair done on the roof towards the right end.  Wearing Phase IVb, which is probably the fourth paint scheme for this car.
S1 Sleeper 32044 brings up the markers on No. 5 at Westwater, Utah (4/27/2014). Oblique angle but we get a good look at the end of the car.

This particular run featured (in order) a transition sleeper at the head end, two coaches, lounge, diner, and these two sleepers on the tail.

S1 Sleeper 32050.

TOP: In essentially original paint, the Phase II scheme-- note the extremely narrow white separation between the red and blue.  It's at Coal Creek Canyon west of Denver, trailing a coach in the same scheme, in July 1986.

BOTTOM: Same car, 25 years later (9/24/2011) in Gallup, now it's in Phase IVb.


S1 Sleeper 32053, an S1 at Big 10 curve on 12/6/2008.  Note that the "Amtrak" herald and the car number are a much lighter blue than the stripe.  The light-blue letters on the silver background can be very hard to read in certain light. 

In all likelihood this is the fourth paint scheme this car has worn (see 32050 above for a look at the original Phase II scheme).

Sleeper 32059, at Glenwood Springs on 11/30/02.  It's a Superliner I, and the former paint scheme is showing through in places.

S1 sleeper 32065.

Top:  in Gallup on 9/24/2011. Note the panel adjacent to the car number; it seems to have received a repair job at some point.

Bottom: Opposite side, in Denver on 12/16/2014. Note the half-blanked window in center, which corresponds to the S2 half-size window.

Sleeper 32083, a Superliner II carrying the name "IOWA".  S2 sleepers were originally named for states.  (1/1/04)
S2 Sleeper 32086, at Albuquerque on 2/26/2009.

 T R A N S I T I O N   S  L  E  E  P  E  R  S

Superliner 2 Transition Sleeper 39009, at Albuquerque on 2/26/2009.  It's in Phase IVb.
Transition Sleeper 39019.  Look closely at the far end of the car and you will see a small window on the end.  These cars have a standard-height vestibule on that end, allowing passage into the baggage car (or other standard-height equipment).  Wearing Phase IV lettering.

 (Glenwood Springs, 1/1/2004)

Transition Sleeper 39024. It's on No. 4 passing through Grants on 8/29/2015.
Transition sleeper 39026 on train No. 5, leaving Denver on 12/16/2014.

Transition sleeper 39028, westbound in Byers Canyon on 8/9/2007.  This was the first time I had photographed the newer, simplified Phase IVb scheme.  Note the lack of the scripted "SUPERLINER" lettering, and modified numbering and car identification legends.

Transition sleeper 39031, in Gallup on 9/24/2011.
Transition sleeper 39035, at Westwater, Utah on 4/27/2014. This consist was inverted, with coaches behind the transition car, and only 7 cars total.


 L  O  U  N  G  E     C  A  R  S

Lounges arrived in the following groups.

S1: 33000-33024
S2: 33025-33049

S1 Lounge 33004, in Albuquerque on 2/7/2010.  Probably the fourth paint scheme it has worn since being built in 1979...  Note the four windows beyond the off-center side door-- this easily identifies it as an S1, even if one cannot see the trucks.
S1 Sightseer Lounge car 33013, a Superliner I (8/07/01).  These cars are the best place to be for the scenic portions of a trip, particularly in Colorado's canyon country.
S1 Lounge/Cafe 33014, in simplified Phase III stripes on 6/30/1995.  Video capture image.  It's in the rain in Glenwood Springs.
S1 Lounge 33016, at Gallup on 9/24/2011.  Note that, by this date, the car numbers have been changed to a darker blue, and are far easier to read than the early Phase IVb numbers.
Sightseer Lounge car 33020, a Superliner I (11/30/02).  Lounge cars are the most easily spotted, with their large amount of glass on sides and roof.
Lounge 33022, an S1, seen at Westwater, Utah on 4/27/2014. Phase 4b scheme.

Interior of a Superliner I Sightseer Lounge car, upper level.  Photo is taken standing with the stairway immediately to the left.  Notice the earth-tone interior, which is the as-built color scheme.  Word has it that some cars have been refitted in the Superliner II scheme (see below).  Sightseer lounges have a TV monitor at each end of the car, to the left of the aisle, on which movies are played in the evenings.
Interior of a Superliner I Sightseer Lounge car, upper level, looking the opposite direction.  Stairway is just to the right.  Seat cushions in these lounges are a putty-colored tan on the stationary seats (lounge clusters) in the middle of the car, and darker brown on the swivel seats to each end.

Sightseer Lounge car 33027, a Superliner II, on the Southwest Chief at Albuquerque on 2/26/2009.

Interesting footnote: On this day, No, 4 was running without a diner, and only 2 coaches behind the lounge.  Very strange, and pity the passenger with a taste for something more elegant than a microwaved hotdog...

S2 Sightseer Lounge 33030, in Byers Canyon on 8/9/2007.  It wears the then-new Phase IVb scheme.

S2 Lounge 33031

Top:  at Palisade, CO on 4/28/2014 on train No. 6. Though the entire car isn't shown here, I found it interesting that you can easily see where all the Phase 4 appliques were peeled off-- the large SUPERLINER letters, the cartype descriptors, even the word "Amtrak" .  Most other cars do not show the shadows like this one does. It's been roughly 7 years since they were removed.

Bottom: same car, in Denver on 12/16/2014, train No. 5.

Sightseer Lounge car 33041, a Superliner II, waiting at Denver Union Station on 1/1/2004.  Notice that the vestibule door is more centered than as on a Superliner I, and that this side of the lower level has no windows beyond the door. 

The opposite side of Sightseer Lounge car 33041.  You can see that the lower level on this side has two regular-size windows to the left of the door, plus one smaller window (in the lounge attendant's area). 

 Interior of a Superliner II Sightseer Lounge car, upper level.  The steward at left is coming up the staircase.  Yes, that's the Ski Train visible out the right-hand windows; photo taken at Denver Union Station.
Interior of a Superliner II Sightseer Lounge car, upper level, looking the opposite direction.  Stairway is just to the right.  Notice the interior colors based on light gray, which is the as-built color scheme.  Stationary seats (lounge clusters) typically are dark blue-gray, and the swivel seats at each end of the car are maroon.
Interior of a Superliner II Sightseer Lounge car, lower level.  Stairway is on the right, beyond the vestibule area.  Photo taken from doorway of the lavatory, which is the full width of the car and handicap-accessible.  The door at the far end leads to the concession area.  The tables on the near end are designed for easy access by those with disabilities, whereas the tables at the far end are standard booths.


 D  I  N  E  R  S

Diners arrived in the following groups.

S1: 38000-38038
S2: 38039-38068

S1 diner, number unknown. Note the window arrangement in the middle.  Rather than a blank panel, there are two blanked window openings in the galley area. I have photographed a number of such cars in the past but I suspect they've been more extensively modified to remove the blanked windows altogether. This photo on No. 6 in August 2001.
Diner 38008, a Superliner I, at Glenwood Springs on 11/30/2002.
Diner 38011, a Superliner I, at Glenwood Springs on 1/1/2004.
S1 Diner 38016, at Westwater, Utah on 4/27/2014. It has the patchy paint so common on S1 cars.
S1 diner 38019, at Gallup on 9/24/2011.  Phase IVb stripes.
S1 Diner 38036, in Byers Canyon on 8/09/2007.  It's been put into Phase IVb lettering.
S2 diner 38040, at Grants, NM 0n 8/29/2015.
S2 Diner 38061, in Denver on train No. 5, 12/16/2014. Note it still has the light blue car numbers that date from the original Phase 4b rollout. Contrast with the adjacent cars.
Diner 38062, a Superliner II.  It was quite new when this photo was taken on June 30, 1995.  The Phase 4 paint scheme with the two narrow red stripes debuted with the Superliner II series; note the other cars in the train are still in the Phase 3 scheme.  By the way, food onboard contemporary Amtrak diners is first-class.


 H I G H - L E V E L    C A R S  ( E L  C A P I T A N )

As described on the Introduction Page, the Superliner design was based on that of Santa Fe's El Capitan cars. As it turned out, representatives from all types of the original El Capitan cars remained in Amtrak service after introduction of the Superliners. These include the transition coaches ("Dorm Coach" in Amtrak parlance) the Parlour Lounges, "standard" coaches, and diner/lounges.  *The El Capitan was coach-only, hence no sleepers.

The dorm coaches were used at the front of trains during the S1 era, but were gradually phased out as the S2 Transition Sleepers entered service in the 1990s, and all are off the roster now.  As of this writing, five Pacific Parlour Lounges remain in Amtrak service on the west coast.  I also videotaped one in Colorado on 12/29/1994 on train No. 5.

Several of these former El Capitan cars appeared in Alamosa for service and rebuilding in 2015 by the SL&RG, all wearing Phase 3 stripes.  I took advantage of this rare opportunity to get some portraits.


Two views of "Pacific Parlour" car No. 39972 in Seattle, 7/24/2009.  Taken from a tour bus, the image quality could be better, but you can still see the distinguishing features.

TOP: Note the overhead windows which inspired the Superliner Lounge Cafe / Sightseer Lounge design, but see how they are shifted towards one end of the car.  Also note the slight height difference when compared to the adjacent Superliners.

BOTTOM: closer view of the window end of the same car. See the wider Amtrak California blue stripe.

Dorm Coach on train No. 6 in July 1986-- it is just behind the baggage car. From this angle you can easily see the difference in height between the El Cap cars and the newer Superliners.  Note the straight stripes, and contrast to car 39918 shown below.

(Apologies for the fuzziness; it's a detail from a much larger image.)

Coach 39947. All these cars are in Phase III stripes, so they apparently saw service on Amtrak into the 1980s.
Coach 39949.
Coach 39963.

Transition coach 39918, two views.

Top: broadside, showing the low diaphragm

Bottom: rear end, showing the high-level diaphragm.

Diner - Lounge No. 39984. Note the 3-axle trucks-- the only high-level cars of any model to require them. The diners weighed in at about 97 tons.

James R. Griffin.  All rights reserved.