Club seating aboard an Amtrak Metroliner train in the 1970s.

(National Archives at College Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



A parlor car is a type of passenger coach that provides superior comforts and amenities compared to a standard coach. Webster's describes it as "an extra-fare railroad passenger car for day travel equipped with individual chair".



Parlor cars came about on United States railroads to address the absence of separate class accommodations. In the United Kingdom and Europe, passenger trains carried first-, second- and third-class coaches, with the first-class coaches offering the best seating and costing the most. In contrast, American trains offered a flat rate and standard accommodations. For 19th-century writers this represented a difference between class-bound Europe and the democratic United States.

Parlor accommodations were appreciated by those who used them because of their exclusivity. H. L. Mencken called the parlor car "the best investment open to an American":

He not only has a certain seat of his own, free from intrusion and reasonably roomy; he also rides in a car in which all of the people are clean and do not smell badly. The stinks in a day-coach, even under the best of circumstances, are revolting. The imbecile conversation that goes on in parlor-car smoke-rooms is sometimes hard to bear, but there is escape from it in one's seat; the gabble in day-coaches is worse, and it is often accompanied by all sorts of other noises.

The Pullman company invented the parlor car and on the earliest of trains, for an extra fee, a passenger could relax in an swiveling upholstered armchair that allowed a better view of the scenery. Wide windows and plush furnishings seemingly provided the passenger with a sense of being privileged.

Most parlor cars were found on daytime trains in the Northeast United States. In comparison to a standard coach, parlor cars offered more comfortable seating and surroundings, as well as food and beverages, but were far inferior to sleeping cars for overnight trips.


The interior of a Pacific Parlor Car.

(Rennett Stowe from USA, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)



Elevated service survives on Amtrak although the term "parlor car" has fallen into disuse. One recently discontinued example was the Pacific Parlor Car on the Coast Starlight, converted Hi-Level lounges which featured a mixture of 1x1 swivel-chair seating and café-style seating. In contrast to past usage, this car was provided as a sleeping car passenger-only lounge and was not itself bookable. Amtrak discontinued the Pacific Parlor in February 2018. The Acela offers First Class service, including at-seat service and improved seating. Other Amtrak trains offer a Business Class, which includes roomier seating and, on some routes, a complimentary beverage and newspaper.


A Gallery of Parlor Cars


Pere Marquette Railroad parlor car No. 25, between 1900 and 1910. (Detroit Publishing Co., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Interior of SP parlor car on the Del Monte, February 5, 1971. (Roger Puta, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe, Parlor and Club Car 3232, Cleburne, Texas, August 12, 1962. (Everett L. DeGolyer Jr. Collection , SMU Central University Libraries, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)

Postcard depiction of the Chicago and North Western Railway's "400" streamliners parlor cars. (Chicago and North Western Railway, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, edited)