The Coast Starlight is a 1,377-mile (2,235 km) passenger train route operated by Amtrak on the West Coast of the United States. It runs from Seattle, Washington's King Street Station to Los Angeles, California's Union Station.
The train's name was inspired by the trains of the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) that operated in California, many along the same route as the current Coast Starlight. SP's passenger trains in this region carried the name Daylight in some form (e.g. Morning Daylight and Noon Daylight).
In recent years, the train has gained the nickname Coast Starlate because of its abysmal on-time record. From October 2005 through August 2006 the train delivered its passengers on-time only 2% of the time, with trains consistently running 5 to 11 hours behind schedule. This performance is likely a factor in the 26% drop in ridership between 1999 and 2005. Union Pacific Railroad (UP), who handles traffic on the route, and local rail groups dispute the causes of the of poor performance. Rail groups blame Union Pacific for giving priority to freight traffic, while UP cites ongoing track repairs among other issues. Recently, Union Pacific has been giving Amtrak priority on its tracks. According to Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham, the "Coast Starlight" was on-schedule 86% of the time in May 2008. In comparison, the Department of Transportation reports that national airlines ran on schedule 74% of the time from April 2007 to April of this year.
The train uses Amtrak's double-decker Superliner I & II equipment, including a Sightseer Lounge car that has floor-to-ceiling windows to watch the passing scenery. The Coast Starlight is the only train on the Amtrak system intended to feature a first-class Pacific Parlour lounge car (formerly Santa Fe Hi-Level Sky Lounge cars built in 1956) for sleeping-car passengers, offering complimentary beverages, a library and games, a no-longer-free afternoon wine tasting, and a movie theater in the lower level. However, due to ongoing maintenance issues, this car is sometimes absent . For children, play equipment and other distractions are provided in the Kiddie Car. Baggage is placed in a Heritage Baggage Car.
Locomotives used on the Coast Starlight are primarily Amtrak's main locomotives, the GE P42DC AMD-103 Genesis series. Secondary locomotives are GE P32-8 (Dash 8) Locomotives. In the past, EMD F40PH, SDP40F, FP7, and leased Southern Pacific SDP45 locomotives have been used since 1971.
In rare cases, EMD F59PHI locomotives from the Amtrak Surfliner and Cascades routes and Amtrak California F59PHI, or in rarer cases Caltrain EMD F40PH and MPI MP36PH-3C locomotives are used on the Coast Starlight, either as substitutes or while being transported to or from repair jobs.
With the start of Amtrak operations on May 1, 1971, a single route was formed between Los Angeles and Seattle--and for a few months between San Diego and Seattle . The unnamed train (assigned numbers 11 southbound and 12 northbound) ran three times a week. Supplementing it on the other four days (northbound Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and southbound Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) was another unnamed train between Los Angeles and Oakland (assigned 98 northbound and 99 southbound). Additional service was also provided between San Diego and Los Angeles and between Portland and Seattle (those became the San Diegan and Mount Rainier/Puget Sound on November 14). In the November 14, 1971 timetable, the LA-Oakland train received the Coast Daylight name that the SP had used for its LA-San Francisco train, and was extended to San Diego and assigned numbers 12 and 13. The San Diego-Seattle train received the new name Coast Starlight and became trains 11 and 14. A few years later, the Coast Daylight was merged into the Coast Starlight, which was expanded to run every day. The Coast Starlight has since been truncated to Los Angeles, though frequent Pacific Surfliner service continues south. For a couple of years in the mid-nineties, the Coast Starlight sent 2 through coach cars from Los Angeles to San Diego as the last Pacific Surfliner train of the evening (#511). The coaches were then coupled onto the first morning train back to Los Angeles where they were re-coupled to the remainder of the Coast Starlight for the journey to Seattle. This was later discontinued because of the timekeeping unreliability of train #11. Instead, if train #11 arrives into Los Angeles prior to the final Surfliner departure, through passengers to Orange County and San Diego will take the connecting Surfliner train, otherwise passengers will be provided motor coach transportation to destinations south of Los Angeles (the motor coach option typically occurs with greater frequency than the train).
Until April 25, 1982 the Coast Starlight used Southern Pacific Railroad's "West Valley Line" between Tehama and Davis, California with a stop in Orland, bypassing Sacramento to the west. At that time it was rerouted to the line between Tehama and Roseville, east of Sacramento via Chico. In southern California, the Starlight had a stop in Glendale. This was later replaced with the current stop in Van Nuys which, unlike Glendale, has Amtrak staff for checking baggage.
On January 19, 2008, Amtrak suspended all service on the Coast Starlight because of mudslides in the Chemult, Oregon area. On February 6, 2008, Amtrak restored rail service between Los Angeles and Sacramento, then filled the service gap between Sacramento and Seattle with Thruway Motorcoach service starting February 29. As Of April 15, 2008, Amtrak restored much of the Coast Starlight service, with a temporary Thruway Motorcoach line running between Eugene and Klamath Falls. Because of the significantly shorter route, the Starlight north of Eugene temporarily operated without sleeper and diner services, with only coach class available to passengers, but checked baggage service was still available. As of May 7, 2008, full service between Seattle and Los Angeles through Oregon was restored.
During early-summer 2008 the Coast Starlight was relaunched with new amenities, and refurbished equipment. As of July 2008 the Pacific Parlor cars have been refurbished and are back in service as part of the relaunch. This has been much anticipated due to the vast success from Amtrak re-launching the Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle) and Empire Builder-Portland (Chicago-Portland)