These high-level dome-lounge cars are two of six built by the Budd Company for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway’s El Capitan luxury coach train in 1956. This was a unique train that composed of two-level passenger cars with most accommodation on an upper level, and entrances and some seating on a lower story at ground level. The cars offered more efficient use of space and quieter interiors than conventional single-level cars.
The 1956 El Capitan cars were the first two-level coaches on intercity trains, and the design was revived by Amtrak in the 1980’s for its “Superliner” cars that are still in use today. The El Capitan was the coach counterpart to the prestigious Super Chief all-sleeper train connecting Chicago and Los Angeles. In the 1960’s, the two trains were combined with special cars providing a connection between the high-level coaches and the single-level sleepers. The Hi-Level cars were continued in use by Amtrak after 1971 and were used interchangeably with Amtrak’s Superliners. Eventually the coaches and diners were withdrawn from use, leaving only the dome-lounges in service. The last use of these cars was in 2018 as “Pacific Parlour” cars on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight between Seattle and Los Angeles. The interiors were redesigned for this service with a movie theater in the lower level, interiors have been retained today.
Purchased in 2019 by the Steam Railroading Institute, cars 575 and 580 serves a first-class ambiance; including high-end seating, panoramic views, specialized food and beverage service at the cash bar, and more.