Amtrak's Sunset Limited rounds Pensacola Bay in December 2004.

(Extra Zebra, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Amtrak Sunset Limited service mark.


The Sunset Limited is a long-distance passenger train operated by Amtrak on a 1,995-mile (3,211 km) route between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Los Angeles, California, with major stops in Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and Tucson. Introduced in 1894 by the Southern Pacific Railroad, it is the oldest continuously operating named train in the United States.

With three round trips per week, the Sunset Limited is tied with the Cardinal for the lowest frequency of any regularly-scheduled Amtrak route. Each end-to-end journey takes about two days. West of San Antonio, the train runs combined with the Texas Eagle.

The Sunset Limited was extended to Florida in 1993, creating Amtrak's longest route and its only coast-to-coast train service. This ended in 2005 when service east of New Orleans was indefinitely suspended due to Hurricane Katrina.


Southern Pacific's Eastbound Sunset, ready to leave Los Angeles Union Station in March of 1971.

(Drew Jacksich from San Jose, CA, The Republic of California, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)



Main Article: Southern Pacific's Sunset Limited

Before the start of Amtrak on May 1, 1971, the Sunset Limited was operated by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Sunset Limited is the oldest named train in the United States, operating since November 1894 along the Sunset Route (though originally named the Sunset Express).


 A P42DC painted in the original Phase 1 paint scheme on the Sunset Limited.

(Amtrak Guy 124, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)



Amtrak assumed operation of most intercity passenger train routes in the United States on May 1, 1971, including those of the Southern Pacific. Amtrak retained the Sunset Limited and initially left its route unchanged.

On October 2, 1981, Amtrak began operating the Chicago-bound Eagle (known as the Texas Eagle since 1988) in conjunction with the Sunset Limited. The routes operate as one train between Los Angeles and San Antonio, Texas.


Extension to Florida

The Louisville and Nashville Railroad had operated the Gulf Wind between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, from 1949 to 1971, when Amtrak dropped the route. This corridor saw limited service over the next two decades: in 1984–1985 the Gulf Coast Limited ran between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, and from 1989 to 1995 the Gulf Breeze served the segment from Mobile to Atmore, Alabama.

On April 4, 1993, Amtrak extended the Sunset Limited eastward to Miami. The train followed the former route of the Gulf Wind between New Orleans and Jacksonville, restoring service on that corridor, and used the route of Amtrak's Silver Meteor south of Jacksonville. It was serviced at Amtrak's Hialeah yards for the return trip. It was only the second direct rail link between Orlando and Miami, following local trains by the Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Coast Line in the mid-1960s.

Schedule unreliability caused the Sunset Limited's eastern terminus to be truncated to Sanford on November 10, 1996. Service was re-extended to Orlando on October 26, 1997, and the train deadheaded (operated empty) between Orlando and Sanford for servicing. Sanford was, and still is, the servicing point for Amtrak's Auto Train.


Bypassing of Phoenix

On June 2, 1996, the Sunset Limited was rerouted to a more southerly route between Tucson, and Yuma, Arizona, bypassing Phoenix. Union Pacific, which had acquired Southern Pacific earlier in the year, wanted to abandon a decaying portion of its Phoenix–Yuma "West Line" that had previously been used to serve Phoenix. This made Phoenix one of the nation's largest cities without direct passenger service; although the designated Phoenix-area stop is in Maricopa, a suburban community about 40 miles (64 km) south of downtown Phoenix. Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach service, run by Stagecoach Express, connects the two cities.


Hurricane Katrina

On August 29, 2005, the Sunset Limited route was truncated east of 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 Louisiana had been repaired. Service east of New Orleans has remained indefinitely suspended despite CSX Transportation completing repair of the track in January 2006.


Recent years

The Sunset Limited received a modified schedule on May 7, 2012, moving its westbound movements from New Orleans to a Monday, Wednesday, Saturday circuit. The times allow several 7- to 12-hour rides between major-city pairs; for example, overnight between Tucson or Maricopa (for Phoenix) and Los Angeles in both directions.

While most Amtrak trains saw service reductions in 2020–2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sunset Limited and its existing sub-daily schedule were not affected. The Texas Eagle was reduced to tri-weekly from October 2020 and May 2021, temporarily matching the Sunset Limited.

Poor Performance

On July 11th, 2023, the Surface Transportation Board announced that it was opening an investigation into the poor on-time performance of the Sunset Limited.


Amtrak's Return to Service Special arrives in Chipley, Florida, on February 19, 2016.

(Gracebeliever077, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Proposed expansion

Re-extension to Florida

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, the obstacles to restoration of the Sunset Limited's full route have been more managerial and political than physical. Advocates for the train's restoration have pointed to revenue figures for Amtrak's fiscal year 2004, the last full year of coast-to-coast Sunset Limited service. During that period, the Orlando–New Orleans segment accounted for 41% of the Sunset's revenue.

Section 226 of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 16, 2008, gave Amtrak nine months to provide Congress with a plan for restoring service that "shall include a projected timeline for restoring such service, the costs associated with restoring such service, and any proposals for legislation necessary to support such restoration of service."

In January 2016, Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission announced jointly that a Gulf Coast passenger rail inspection trip was to be made from New Orleans to Jacksonville, with elected officials among those on board during the February 18–19 excursion. Stops were planned for all of the stations formerly part of the Sunset Limited's route between those two cities. In June 2018, the commission missed the deadline for submitting a request for service restoration along the Gulf. It said that it could not apply for the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) fiscal-year 2017 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements (CRISI) funding because Alabama and Mississippi were unwilling to assist with funds. Alabama's share would have been $5.3 million. The Louisiana governor, on the other hand, was willing to provide the funds. The three states' cooperation was needed to secure the $35.5 million in federal CRISI funds.


New Gulf Coast service

On February 23, 2021, following the conclusion of one year of negotiations with CSX and Norfolk Southern, Amtrak officials announced that a new Gulf Coast corridor service between New Orleans and Mobile would start as early as January 2022. Amtrak plans to pay for repairs along the route. As of late 2022, after lengthy negotiations with Norfolk Southern and CSX, Amtrak now expects Gulf Coast service to begin sometime in 2023.

Restoration of the Florida Panhandle Service

In terms of the rest of the route for the restoration of Florida Panhandle service, Amtrak stated that their "focus has been on restoring service from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama," and they would be "willing to explore such service (on the Florida Panhandle) with the state’s financial support." The mayors and city councils of Pensacola, Tallahassee, and Lake City have shown much interest in resuming the service. The corridor would eventually need to be upgraded for speeds greater than 45 miles per hour (72 km/h), and some of the stations require refurbishment or replacement.

As of 2022, Amtrak's schedules and maps describe the route between Mobile and Orlando as suspended.


Daily service

In 2009, Brian Rosenwald, a now-departed Amtrak executive, outlined ideas for a complete overhaul of the route, including daily service. It was to have the Texas Eagle operate over the Sunset Limited's route west of San Antonio, with a stub train connecting San Antonio (with a cross-platform transfer) and New Orleans. The plans were halted when Union Pacific stated that to get a daily Sunset Limited, Amtrak would need to pay $750 million for infrastructure improvements.

Passenger totals would double with daily service, according to the PRIIA study that looked at Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited service. It forecast an incremental improvement of more than 100,000 passengers from the daily service, which is already running in excess of 100,000 a year. In the meantime, the Union Pacific has double-tracked much of the route with its own money. However, Amtrak still lacks the equipment and funds needed to move to daily service.

In June 2021, Senator Jon Tester of Montana added an amendment to the Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021 which would require the Department of Transportation (not Amtrak itself) to evaluate daily service on all less frequent long-distance trains, meaning the Sunset Limited and Cardinal. The bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee with bipartisan support, and was later rolled into President Biden's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which Congress passed on November 5, 2021. The report must be delivered to Congress within two years.

In June 2023, Amtrak submitted an application for a federal grant to increase Sunset Limited service to operate daily.


Return to Phoenix

In February 2023, the FRA indicated that it was studying a re-route of the Sunset Limited from Maricopa back to Phoenix as part of the Long-Distance Service Study ordered by the IIJA. The move would revert a 1996 route change that cut direct service to Arizona's most populous metropolitan area, with stops at Phoenix, Tempe, and Coolidge.

In June 2023, Amtrak submitted an application to the FRA seeking funding for a project to return Sunset Limited service to Phoenix, paired with increasing the route's frequency to once-daily service.


The Amtrak's Sunset Limited at Benson, AZ in 2014.

(, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)



Since 1981, the Texas Eagle has operated as a section of the Sunset Limited. A coach and sleeper from the Texas Eagle split from the eastbound Sunset Limited at San Antonio station and continue to Chicago, combining with the westbound Sunset Limited for the journey to Los Angeles. The Texas Eagle runs independently between Chicago and San Antonio for the rest of the week.



A Sunset Limited Consist includes two GE P42DC Locomotives, a Viewliner II Baggage Car, a Superliner Sleeper ,a Superliner dining car, a Superliner sightseer lounge car, a Superliner coach-baggage car, two Superliner coaches and a Superliner Sleeper at the rear.


Route of the Sunset Limited.

(jkan997, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)



For most of its existence, the Sunset Limited route was owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The name Sunset Limited traces its origins to the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway, a Southern Pacific subsidiary which was known as the Sunset Route as early as 1874.

Most of the current route from New Orleans westward is now owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, which acquired Southern Pacific in 1996. However, the route within Louisiana and some of Texas was partially sold to BNSF Railway in 1995 in return for BNSF not objecting to the UP-SP merger.

On the portion of the route east of New Orleans, service was suspended after Hurricane Katrina. Those tracks, between New Orleans and Florida, include parts of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, and the Louisville and Nashville Railroad—all now merged into CSX Transportation. Currently, the segment of the former Atlantic Coast Line Railroad between DeLand and Orlando is owned by Orlando's commuter service SunRail, and the segment of track from Pensacola to Baldwin is now owned by the Florida Gulf & Atlantic Railroad.

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

Route Original owner Current owner
New Orleans–Lafayette, Louisiana Morgan's Louisiana and Texas Railroad and Steamship Company (SP) BNSF / UP
Lafayette–Lake Charles, Louisiana Louisiana Western Railroad (SP) BNSF / UP
Lake Charles–Orange, Texas Louisiana Western Railroad (SP) BNSF / UP
Orange–Houston, Texas Texas and New Orleans Railroad (SP) UP
Houston–El Paso, Texas Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway (SP) UP
El Paso–Los Angeles, California Southern Pacific Railroad


Along with the Cardinal, this train is one of Amtrak's two long-distance services which operate thrice weekly. Consequently, the Sunset Limited carried the third-fewest passengers of any Amtrak train in fiscal year 2019, 92,827, a 4.4% decrease over FY2018. It had a total revenue of $10,769,179 in 2016, marking a 7.5% decrease over FY2015.

For additional statistics and figures, click HERE.


On September 22, 1993, the Sunset Limited fell into water from a swing bridge that had been knocked out of alignment

and had its rails deformed by a row of barges colliding with it. Sadly, 47 people were killed in the accident.

(National Transportation Safety Board, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


1990s accidents

  • On September 22, 1993, the three locomotives and four of the eight cars of the eastbound Sunset Limited derailed and fell off a damaged bridge into water near Mobile, Alabama, in Amtrak's worst train wreck, the Big Bayou Canot rail accident. Sadly, 47 people perished in the crash.
  • On October 9, 1995, saboteurs derailed the Sunset Limited near Harqua, Arizona, by removing 29 spikes from a section of track, and short-circuited the signal system to conceal the sabotage. Sadly, the attack killed one person and injured dozens of others. The crime still remains unsolved.


The westbound Sunset Limited at Ontario station in March 1995.

(Hikki Nagasaki, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



Service type: Inter-city rail
Locale: Southern United States
First service: 1894
Current operator: Amtrak
Former operator: Southern Pacific (1894–1971)
Annual ridership: 73,904 (FY22) Increase 28.4%
Route Termini: Los Angeles, California / New Orleans, Louisiana
Stops: 20
Distance traveled: 1,995 mi (3,211 km)
Average journey time: 45 hours, 40 minutes (eastbound)
Average journey time: 46 hours, 35 minutes (westbound)
Service frequency: Three round trips per week
Train numbers: 1 (westbound), 2 (eastbound)
On-board services
Classes: Coach Class, Sleeper Service
Disabled access: Train lower level, all stations
Sleeping arrangements: Roomette (2 beds), Bedroom (2 beds), Bedroom Suite (4 beds), Accessible Bedroom (2 beds), Family Bedroom (4 beds)
Catering facilities: Dining car, Café
Observation facilities: Sightseer lounge car
Baggage facilities: Overhead racks, checked baggage available at selected stations
Rolling stock: GE Genesis, Superliner
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Operating speed: 44 mph (71 km/h) (avg.); 79 mph (127 km/h) (top)
Track owners: UP, BNSF