Nearly an hour into its final westbound trek, the Chief pauses at Joliet, Illinois, on September 9, 1972.
Nearly an hour into its final westbound trek, the Chief pauses at Joliet, Illinois, on September 9, 1972.

The Chief

Endpoints: Chicago-Los Angeles

Numbers: 19, 20

Intermediate Stations: Joliet, Streator, Chillicothe and Galesburg, Illinois; Fort Madison, Iowa; La Plata and Kansas City, Missouri; Emporia, Newton, Hutchinson and Dodge City, Kansas; La Junta, Colorado; Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy, Albuquerque and Gallup, New Mexico; Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona; Needles, Barstow, San Bernardino, Pomona and Pasadena, California.

Host Railroad: Santa Fe

Amtrak Operated: June 11, 1972-September 9-11, 1972

Named for: A previous Santa Fe passenger train of the same name.

Pre-Amtrak History: Santa Fe’s Chief was gone by the time Amtrak began. The long-time luxury streamliner inaugurated November 14, 1926, still carried up to 19 cars in 1967 including three Kansas City setout sleepers that continued on to Dallas or Tulsa, three Los Angeles sleepers, six Los Angeles coaches, a diner, a full-length dome bar and lounge, and a lunch counter-diner dormitory car. But ridership of the Chief had fallen 10 percent in 1967 and after the Post Office announced it was diverting much of the mail carried by passenger trains Santa Fe posted the Chief for discontinuance. After an Interstate Commerce Commission investigation the Chief began its last trips May 13, 1968.

Amtrak History: Strong patronage of the Super Chief/El Capitan in summer 1971 prompted Amtrak to announced in April 1972 that it would add a second Chicago-Los Angeles train for the summer. Santa Fe management opposed the move, arguing that a second section of the Super Chief would be more economical and provide a more
convenient schedule.

But Amtrak did it its way, launching the Chief on June 11, leaving Chicago at 9:30 a.m. on a 40-hour schedule that involved just one night en route and reached Los Angles at 11:35 p.m. The first eastbound Chief left Los Angeles two days later at 1 p.m., reaching
Chicago after two night en route at 7:30 a.m.

Concurrent with the inauguration of the Chief was the implementation of New York-Los Angeles through sleepers and coaches. They were conveyed between New York and Kansas City by the National Limited. Westward, the New York cars traveled on the Chief, but eastward they rode the Super Chief. The sleepers were former Union Pacific cars.

The Chief typically carried seven to nine cars including a former Santa Fe sleepers and two Hi-Level coaches. Also in the consists were Burlington Northern Slumbercoaches and lounges and diners from such eastern railroads as Chesapeake & Ohio and Seaboard Coast Line.

The combined ridership of the Chief and Super Chief/El Capitan exceeded the patronage of the previous summer, but still fell below expectations. The capacity of the two trains barely exceeded that of the Super Chief/El Capitan of a year earlier. Amtrak would never again operate two long distance trains endpoint to endpoint over the same route outside the New York-Florida corridor.

The New York-Los Angeles through coach ended with the discontinuance of the Chief. The equipment assigned to the run often lost its air conditions in the sweltering Southwest desert heat.

A notable occurrence in the short life of the Chief came on July 17 when Kansas agents boarded the Chief in Kansas City and shortly after the train crossed the state line went to the lounge car and ordered drinks. The Kansas attorney general and other agents met the Chief at its Newton, Kansas, stop and arrested the conductor, a waiter and bartender on charges of operating an open saloon in violation of Kansas law. Agents also confiscated the bar’s liquor supply. The Amtrak personnel were released on $500 bond.

The state said it had warned Amtrak that it was illegal to serve alcoholic beverages aboard its trains while passing through Kansas. Two days after the raid, Amtrak ceased serving alcoholic beverages while in Kansas, although it protested that a state could not regulate interstate transportation. Kansas later prevailed at trial in its contention that state liquor laws applied to Amtrak trains passing through the Sunflower state.

One Response to “Chief”


    I miss the New York-Los Angeles connection via a throughway connection via a sleeper/coach with the National Limited. Now a connection from the East Coast to the West requires a long wait for a connecting train in Chicago. Better to fly.

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