Video of Union Pacific Streamliners in the 1930s. Scene 1: CITY OF DENVER arriving in Chicago after making the 1,048 mile trip from Denver in 16 hours. Scene 2: E-2 diesels in 1938 pull the CITY OF LOS ANGELES passenger train in Los Angeles.

A Brief History of Union Pacific’s Passenger Trains:

Passenger service can be traced back to within a few decades of railroading’s first appearance on the American scene in the late 1700s. Passenger travel via train began in the 1830s in eastern markets, reaching midwestern lines in the 1860s. Union Pacific inaugurated its passenger service in July 1866.

Lounge Car aboard a Union Pacific Streamliner in the 1950s. 

THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES – on final run when Amtrak took over in 1971… Adios to deluxe rail travel.. 

The Union Pacific M-10000 City of Salina and the Burlington Zephyr 9900 Pioneer Zephyr at Kansas City Union Station, late 1930s. Photo credit: Union Pacific Museum

The first passenger trains were undeniably crude; they seldom travelled more than 20 miles per hour and meals were eaten quickly in station dining halls. Wooden benches were the standard seating accommodations and wood stoves furnished heat, while air conditioning was unheard of until the 1930s.

The City of San Francisco

In the beginning, there were even occasional wrecks, until the intricacies of traffic control were figured out. However, improvements and innovations soon began. George Pullman’s famous “hotel” sleeping cars were in service before the golden spike was driven, and dining cars followed soon after. Regular train service from Omaha to San Francisco was launched just five days after the driving of the golden spike on May 10, 1869, and before the turn of the century, innovations in design had produced a number of significant advantages in passenger travel.

One of the finest Union Pacific passenger trains was the Overland Limited. This luxury train, inaugurated in 1890, made the run between Omaha and San Francisco in just 71 hours. In 1921, passenger revenues reached an all time high. However, as the Twenties progressed and the automobile gradually came to be viewed as a necessity rather than a luxury, Union Pacific decided to take some drastic steps to bring ridership back to the rails.

The City of Salina

In the 1930s the introduction of the lightweight Streamliner passenger trains set a new standard for luxurious train travel. The equipment you enjoy today is a remnant of those lightweight passenger trains that began operation in 1934 with Union Pacific’s City of Salina. The Streamliners’ opulent furnishings, impeccable service and total comfort combined to lure customers back to the rail. Air conditioning, reduced noise, and a better ride distinguished these trains from the conventional steam-powered models. Over the next seven years, nine more streamliner sets were added to the passenger fleet.

Still, it wasn’t possible to maintain daily streamliner service between Chicago and the Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland areas until 1947. To offer daily service between three west coast points and Denver, in addition to the other daily trains already operating, involved a tremendous outlay of equipment and personnel. Each train required an engineer, brakeman, conductor, fireman, baggageman, car attendants, cooks, waiters, lounge car attendants and sleeping car attendants. Over the next couple of decades, however, Union Pacific made substantial additions to their passenger service equipment. Between 1946 and 1965, new purchases included 291 sleeping cars, 196 coaches, 112 diners and lounges, 16 dome coaches, 16 dome lounge cars, and 11 dome diners (unique to UP).

Additional equipment and enhanced service notwithstanding, 105 years of carrying passengers came to an end for Union Pacific on May 1, 1971. The end of passenger service for UP was not final, however. In 1992, commuter rail services put UP back in the business of hauling passengers once again.

Partial List of Union Pacific Passenger Trains

Overland Limited (in service 1897)
Los Angeles Limited (in service 1905)
Columbine (in service to Chicago and Denver, beginning in the 1920s)
Portland Rose (in service between Chicago and Portland, beginning in the 1920s)
Challenger (in service beginning 1935)

Streamliner Passenger Trains (in service from 1934-1971):

City of Salina (1934-1940)
City of Portland (from 1934)
City of Los Angeles (from 1936)
City of Denver (from 1936)
City of San Francisco (from 1936)
City of St. Louis


About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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