Friday, 2 November 2012

Coast Daylight

The Southern Pacific (SP) Coast Daylight train made its first trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco on March 21st. 1937 being waved off in style by Hollywood star, Olivia De Havilland. This was a prestige effort with custom-built steam locomotives and rolling stock. At a time when competitors were turning to diesel traction in the early streamline era, the SP kept faith with steam power despite the risk of being associated with obsolete technology. To emphasise the sense of modernity, cosmetic streamlining was applied to the locomotives together with a highly visible colour scheme of red, orange and black quite unlike any of its rivals. Contemporary observers commented that the effect was similar to that of a circus train. The vision of senior execs and Hollywood moguls shuttling up and down the coast in air-conditioned luxury turned out to be short lived as the business travellers soon defected to the airlines. The residual traffic was significantly less profitable and in the post-war years all the special facilities, the tavern car, the coffee shop, the parlour car, the hairdresser and clairvoyant, were gradually withdrawn until the final indignity when the restaurant car was replaced by an automat. The rapid decline in rail passenger travel in the US is well documented and although Amtrak continues to operate this and many other services the original Coast Daylight offered a lustre and glamour that can never be repeated. 

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