City of San Francisco

Endpoints: Chicago-Oakland, California

Numbers: 5/6

Host Railroads: Burlington Northern (Chicago-Denver), Union Pacific (Denver-Ogden, Utah), Southern Pacific (Ogden-Oakland)

Amtrak Operated: November 14, 1971 to June 11, 1972

Named for: San Francisco and a Union Pacific train of the same name.

Pre-Amtrak History: The City of San Francisco was one of Union Pacific’s famed fleet of “City” trains. It operated over UP’s Overland Route west of Omaha, Nebraska. By the coming of Amtrak, it had become on the UP nothing more than through coaches and sleepers between Chicago and Oakland that were a section of the City of Los Angeles/Challenger that split off at Ogden, Utah. Only on the Southern Pacific between Ogden and Oakland did the City of San Francisco operate as an independent train. Between Chicago and Omaha, the City of San Francisco was part of the “City of Everywhere” that carried through cars over The Milwaukee Road that were bound for Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver and Portland, Oregon.

 Amtrak History: Amtrak planners envisioned creating a train that approximated the California Zephyr although it would use the SP west of Ogden because original CZ partner Western Pacific had ended its segment of the CZ in March 1970. However, five days before Amtrak was to begin, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, which had hosted the CZ between Denver and Salt Lake City, refused to join Amtrak.

Amtrak’s initial Chicago-Oakland route involved keeping the Denver Zephyr of Burlington Northern between Chicago and Denver; and portions of UP’s City of Kansas City (Denver-Cheyenne, Wyoming), and the City of San Francisco (Cheyenne-Oakland). The train operated on the UP as Nos. 101 and 102. No UP train operating on the eve of Amtrak carried those numbers, which might prompt some to describe the train on UP as “new.” Arguably, on the UP, Nos. 101 and 102 were an extension of SP Nos. 101 and 102. Timetables published for Amtrak by SP and UP do not show a train name for Nos. 101 and 102.

Amtrak’s first timetable showed the California Zephyr name and route via the Rio Grande. The CZ name was removed from Amtrak’s second timetable, issued on July 12, 1971, which also showed the correct route. But no name was assigned to the train west of Denver, only numbers 101 and 102, which had been the train numbers of the City of San Francisco on the Espee.

Nos. 5 and 6 were named City of San Francisco in Amtrak’s third timetable, issued on November 14, 1971.

The train operated daily between Chicago and Denver under the Denver Zephyr name and tri-weekly west of Denver.

In mid 1971, Amtrak began operating separate Denver and Oakland sections on the days when the train was scheduled to run west of Denver. This ended in the fall. Amtrak for a time also published separate on-time performance and ridership reports for the Denver and Oakland sections.

Amtrak’s use of the City of San Francisco name was short-lived. In a compromise, Amtrak renamed Nos. 5 and 6 the San Francisco Zephyr on June 11, 1972. The name kept the Zephyr tradition alive while showing the western terminus of the train even if it didn’t physically reach San Francisco.


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