A promotion from the Southern Pacific (Grace Collection).

A major element in the development of Palm Springs was the Southern Pacific Railroad. At one time the SP offered passenger service on over eight daily trains.  The destination was a retreat for movie stars and the very rich. They heyday for the winter resort were the 1950s.  Bob Hope, Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra made the place a major destination.   Cruising the past ( explores the many deluxe streamliners that brought visitors and stars to the desert.   


Arrival of THE SUNSET LIMITED at West Palm Springs en route form New Orleans to Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1940 (Grace Collection).

The SP served Palm Springs from a Spanish style station especially built for the resort in the late 1930s. SP, at one time, had eight daily trains serving the desert resort for passengers escaping the harsh winters of the USA or wanting the desert climate for their health.


Desert resorts were the destinations of visitors (Grace Collection).

The Santa Fe and Union Pacific, through their rail connections in Riverside and San Bernardino, joined the SP in providing the major form of transportation well into the 1950s.

Passengers arriving aboard the Santa Fe and UP trains where driven in Grey Line limousines from the two major Inland Empire cities to the Palm Springs hotels and resorts.

The GOLDEN STATE heading out of Palm Springs – 1950s (Grace Collection).

The SUNSET LIMITED, GOLDEN STATE, SUPER CHIEF and CITY of LOS ANGELES were the “retro” way of getting to the glamorous desert resort. Unlike Amtrak, all these trains provided daily service on a year round basis and operated on time.

Palm Springs Southern Pacific Station located on Tipton Road, off 111, on the way to Whitewater – early 1950s (Grace Collection) (.

In 1877, as an incentive to complete a railroad to the Pacific, the US government gave Southern Pacific Railroad title to the odd-numbered parcels of land for 10 miles on either side of the tracks running through the Southern California desert around Palm Springs. The even-numbered parcels of land were given to the Agua Calientes. In 1884, Judge John Guthrie McCallum of San Francisco arrived in Palm Springs with his family, seeking health for his tubercular son. The first permanent non-Indian settler, McCallum purchased land from Southern Pacific and built an elaborate aqueduct. In 1909 Nellie Coffman’s Desert Inn opened.

Rock Island and Southern Pacific operated the GOLDEN STATE LIMITED and the APACHE. Both were daily trains from Chicago with through Pullmans from Minneapolis – St. Paul, St. Louis and Kansas City. This is ad is from the 1930s (Grace Collection).

By the time Palm Springs was incorporated in 1938, the Village of Palm Springs had become world famous as a winter playground for Hollywood stars, European royalty and business tycoons, all who came to enjoy the endless sunshine and serenity of the desert.THE SUNSET LIMITED arriving at PALM SPRINGS...

THE GOLDEN STATE LIMITED arriving from Los Angeles at West Palm Springs Station in the early 1950s en route to New Orleans (Grace Collection).

Until the 1950s, a vast majority of visitors traveling long distances came by train.


SP 1950s brochure advertising Palm Springs service aboard the SUNSET LIMITED (Grace Collection).

Air travel was very primitive until after World War 2 and business travel did not really surpass the trains until the mid-1950s.


The Eisenhower’s aboard a private rail car (Grace Collection).

Many people were afraid to fly including First Lady Mamie Eisenhower who came to Palm Springs each winter by private railway car into the late 60s attached to the Santa Fe SUPER CHIEF. President and Mrs. Eisenhower would then leave the train at San Bernardino and drive to Palm Springs. Palm Springs heritage as a resort destination was historically entwined with the direct passenger train services of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the connecting services of the Santa Fe and Union Pacific Railways.


Club Car scene from from restored SP passenger lounge (Grace Collection).

Up until the mid-twentieth century these three American railroads provided the majority of long distance transportation to the resort community. The SP had eight trains serving Palm Springs directly, with service from New Orleans, Chicago and Los Angeles. The SP’s SUNSET LIMITED and the GOLDEN STATE LIMITED provided deluxe Pullman service served Palm Springs daily from Los Angeles, Chicago and New Orleans.

Other SP trains connected in Los Angeles with service to San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. Until the late 1940s there was through service from San Francisco to Palm Springs. The Santa Fe and Union Pacific Railways also competed with the SP for passenger business.grace-10_002.jpg

The famous SUPER CHIEF brought visitors from the east (Grace Collection). 

The Santa Fe provided service to San Bernardino, with limousine service to Palm Springs, from Chicago aboard such famous all-Pullman trains as the SUPER CHIEF and the CHIEF. The Union Pacific provided service aboard the famous CITY OF LOS ANGELES from Chicago to Riverside where limousine service was available to Palm Springs.

At one time both the SP and Santa Fe maintained ticket offices in downtown Palm Springs.


Passengers slumbered in Pullman comfort (Grace Collection).

The Southern Pacific’s GOLDEN STATE LIMITED seen approaching Beaumont, having just left Palm Springs on its way into Los Angeles (Grace Collection).

Southern Pacific began to downgrade their services in the early sixties and many visitors to Palm Springs who were traveling by train from eastern cities took the SUPER CHIEF, CHIEF or CITY OF LOS ANGELES. The Santa Fe and Union Pacific maintained superior and deluxe passengers trains until Amtrak took over in 1971.

In 1951, Highway 99 was improved to four lanes in the populous areas and more people started driving to Palm Springs. The airfield, built to handle military cargo and personnel planes, became Palm Springs Regional Airport and more flights were offered to the desert in the 1950s.

Rail travel decreased through the 1960s and in 1971 Amtrak took over all passenger rail in the USA. Southern Pacific, despite a good deal amount of reservations from eastern cities to Palm Springs, during the 1960s petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to shut the Palm Springs station and discontinue their trains.

What had been eight trains daily serving Palm Springs in the heyday of rail travel became a three times a week service by Amtrak.

The Southern Pacific wanted out of the passenger business because they wanted their tracks free for freight. This attitude carried over into Amtrak. Today, the Union Pacific owns the Southern Pacific and has maintained a very negative attitude toward Amtrak. This has resulted in passenger trains being delayed up to seven hours operating between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. At one time the SUNSET LIMITED and GOLDEN STATE LIMITED were traveling between Palm Springs in less than three hours.



About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…