SP No. 6053, an E9A, with Train 1, the Sunset, at El Paso, TX on March 21, 1967.

(Photo by Roger Puta, Marty Bernard from U.S.A., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Sunset Limited classic drumhead.
Sunset Limited neon drumhead.

SUNSET LIMITED (SP)

Introduced in 1894, the Sunset Limited is a long-distance passenger train formerly operated by the Southern Pacific Railroad between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Los Angeles, California, with major stops in Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and Tucson. In 1971, Amtrak took over operation of the train and it is now the oldest continuously operating named train in the United States.

 

History

Southern Pacific

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). The Sunset Route (originating in New Orleans) is the southernmost of the three gateways to the West Coast envisioned through the Pacific Railroad Acts. The other two embarked from Chicago and St. Louis. However, the Sunset Route had two major advantages over the other two routes. It was an all-weather, year-round route that did not face the crippling snows of the Wasatch or Sierra mountain ranges to reach the Pacific Coast. Additionally, the other two routes had to assault the front range of the Rockies.

In addition, opened 20 years before the Panama Canal, the Sunset Route vastly shortened the time to reach the West Coast from the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, as New Orleans was already an established seaport for Atlantic shipping lines’ passengers, seeking to reach the US interior. The Sunset Limited allowed passengers to reach the West Coast in a few days, not weeks.

The Sunset Limited was Southern Pacific's premier train. Initially, the Sunset Limited was an all-Pullman train, with sleeping cars and no coaches, running from New Orleans to San Francisco via Los Angeles. From its beginning in 1894, until streamlining in 1950, all the train's cars had 6-wheel trucks and dark olive green paint, with black roofs and trucks. In the summer of 1926, it was scheduled at 71 hr 40 min New Orleans to San Francisco; it then carried a coast-to-coast sleeper from Jacksonville to Los Angeles.

In contrast to its earliest Amtrak years, the Sunset Limited, up to its later years, made stops not only at Phoenix, but also at Mesa and Chandler, Arizona.

 

The Sunset Limited - 1895

Promotional piece for the Southern Pacific Railway's Sunset Limited. This was also possibly a child's toy in addition to being a promotional item for the railway and its new train. On the back is a description of each car; they all indicate they are exact depictions of what the actual train and cars looked like. One of the backs of one of the sleeping cars says the train was lit by Pintsch gas*, so this is an indication of the age of these items. There is also an 1895 copyright notation on the composite (baggage/bath-barber/lounge) car.

 

Sunset Limited compartments and sleeper 1895. (Southern Pacific Railway. Copyrighted 1895 by J. Ottmann Lith. Co. Puck Bldg. NY., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunset Limited composite (baggage/bath-barber/lounge) car 1895. (Southern Pacific Railway. Copyrighted 1895 by J. Ottmann Lith. Co. Puck Bldg. NY., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunset Limited diner 1895. (Southern Pacific Railway. Copyrighted 1895 by J. Ottmann Lith. Co. Puck Bldg. NY., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunset Limited parlor and compartment car 1895. (Southern Pacific Railway. Copyrighted 1895 by J. Ottmann Lith. Co. Puck Bldg. NY., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunset Limited sleeper and compartments 1895. (Southern Pacific Railway. Copyrighted 1895 by J. Ottmann Lith. Co. Puck Bldg. NY., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunset Limited 4-4-0 locomotive 1895. (Southern Pacific Railway. Copyrighted 1895 by J. Ottmann Lith. Co. Puck Bldg. NY., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

* Pintsch gas was a compressed fuel gas invented by Julius Pintsch, which was derived from distilled naphtha and used for illumination purposes during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its primary use in the latter half of the 19th century was for illumination of buoys, isolated beacons, lighthouses and railroad cars. Electricity eventually replaced Pintsch illumination on railroad cars.

 

A Sunset Limited Gallery

The Sunset Limited, ca. 1910. (Michael Rieder, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Early depiction of the train at Yuma, Arizona. (Newman Post Card Co. San Francisco, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Sunset Express heading westward on the Cienega Route over the Marsh Station Bridge, built 192, near the town of Vail, Arizona, in 1921. (Unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Sunset Limited in Rosenberg, TX, 1909. University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Fort Bend Museum.)

Southern Pacific's "Sunset Limited" train No. 2 eastbound, headed by Engine No. 2286 - a Pacific type 4-6-2- locomotive - with a consist of nine standard heavyweight cars at the depot in Santa Barbara, 1916. (University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Museum of the American Railroad, cropped)

Southern Pacific's "Sunset Limited", train No. 101, westbound, headed by Engine No. 2433, a Pacific type 4-6-2 locomotive, with a consist of eight cars, 1926. (University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Museum of the American Railroad)

Southern Pacific's "Sunset Limited" train No. 1 westbound, aboard the ferry barge "Mastodon" accompanied by Engine No.73, a steam switcher, type 0-6-0, with a slope-backed tender - is being ferried across the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Avondale, Louisiana, 1930. (University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Museum of the American Railroad)

 

Southern Pacific's "Sunset Limited" train No. 2, eastbound, headed by diesel locomotive No. 206, departing from Grand Central Station in Houston enroute to New Orleans on July 13, 1953. (University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Museum of the American Railroad)

Southern Pacific's "Sunset Limited" train No. 1, westbound, headed by diesel locomotive 6042, crossing the Los Angeles River near the Los Angeles Terminal Station on March 19, 1954. Photo by Roger S. Plummer. (University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Museum of the American Railroad)

 

Southern Pacific's "Sunset Limited" train No. 2, eastbound, with a consist of fourteen cars, crossing the Rio Grande Bridge as it nears El Paso, TX, 1956. (University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Museum of the American Railroad

Postcard photo of the Sunset Limited in bayou country powered by ALCO locomotives. (Southern Pacific/Smith News Company, San Francisco, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Postcard photo of the Sunset Limited powered by EMD diesels near El Paso, Texas. (Southern Pacific/Smith News Company, San Francisco, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Postcard photo of the Audubon Room, the dining car of the Sunset Limited. (Stecher-Traung for Southern Pacific, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Postcard photo of the interior of the Southern Pacific train "Sunset Limited"'s lounge car "Pride of Texas". (Stecher-Traung for Southern Pacific, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

SP Train No. 2, The 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 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

LAUPT March 1971 San Diegan on the right, SP No. 1 "The Sunset" on the left. (Drew Jacksich from San Jose, CA, The Republic of California, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Southern Pacific E9A 6053 with Train 2, the Sunset, at Houston, TX station on June 5, 1969. (Roger Puta, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunset Limited. This is a view of the last sleeping car with its neon drumhead. The consist pictured was new in 1950. The photo shows the train at San Antonio in 1955. (Audio-Visual Designs, Earlton, NY, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Southern Pacific Train 2, the Sunset, at Houston, TX station on June 5, 1969. The consist was 5 coaches and an Automat. (Roger Puta, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

SP Train Board for Train 1, the Sunset, El Paso Texas on January 23, 1971. (Roger Puta, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Route

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 UP

An artist's rendition of the Sunset Limited in Bayou Country.

(Southern Pacific Railroad, W. Lenheim Collection)

 

Equipment Consists

Equipment in 1950 was as follows:

Westbound Train No. 1

  • Full Lounge Car—New Orleans to Los Angeles (for Pullman passengers).
  • Standard Sleepers—(Open for occupancy at New Orleans 10:00 p.m.)
  • New Orleans to Los Angeles
  • (10 Roomettes, 6 Double Bedrooms). Car 15.
  • (10 Roomettes, 6 Double Bedrooms). Car 16.
  • (10 Roomettes, 6 Double Bedrooms). Car 17.
  • (10 Roomettes, 6 Double Bedrooms). Car 19.
  • New Orleans to Phoenix (10 Roomettes, 6 Double Bedrooms). Car 18.
  • Reclining Chair Cars—Seats must be reserved in advance.
  • New Orleans to Los Angeles. Cars 10-11-12.
  • Dining Car— New Orleans to Los Angeles.
  • Coffee Shop Lounge—New Orleans to Los Angeles.

 

Eastbound Train No. 2

  • Full Lounge Car—Los Angeles to New Orleans (for Pullman passengers).
  • Standard Sleepers—Los Angeles to New Orleans
  • (10 Roomettes, 6 Double Bedrooms). Car 25.
  • (10 Roomettes, 6 Double Bedrooms). Car 26.
  • (10 Roomettes, 6 Double Bedrooms). Car 29.
  • Los Angeles to San Antonio (10 Roomettes, 6 Double Bedrooms). Occupancy at San Antonio until 8:00 a.m. Car 27.
  • Phoenix to New Orleans (10 Roomettes, 6 Double Bedrooms). Car 28.
  • San Antonio to New Orleans (10 Roomettes, 6 Double Bedrooms). Car 27. Open for occupancy at San Antonio 9:30 p.m.
  • Reclining Chair Cars—Seats must be reserved in advance.
  • Los Angeles to New Orleans. Cars 20-21-22.
  • Dining Car—Los Angeles to New Orleans.
  • Coffee Shop Lounge—Los Angeles to New Orleans.

 

Sunset Limited Overview

Service type: Inter-city rail

First service: 1894

Last service: (as Southern Pacific) 1971

Route Termini: Los Angeles, CA / New Orleans, LA

Number of stops: Eastbound 25, Westbound 27

Average journey time: 42 hours

Operators: Southern Pacific (1894), Amtrak (1971)

Track owners/Lines used: Southern Pacific and subsidiaries

Train Numbers: No. 1 (westbound), No. 2 (eastbound)

Track gauge 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge