Denver Zephyr

Denver Zephyr

The Denver Zephyr was a passenger train operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad between Chicago, Illinois, and Denver, Colorado. The Burlington operated the train right up until Amtrak took over operations of the majority of intercity passenger train service in the United States in 1971.



The first Denver Zephyr

As a result of the success of the 3-4 car Pioneer, Twin Cities, and Mark Twain Zephyrs, the Burlington ordered two pairs of full length stainless steel streamliners from the Budd Company. One of these pairs were fully articulated 6 car trainsets used to reequip the 3 car Twin Cities Zephyrs, freeing the two older trainsets for other duties. The other pair consisted of 10 car trainsets, only partially articulated, which became the Chicago-Denver Denver Zephyr. The accommodations on these trains included coaches, sections, single and double rooms, and dining and lounge facilities. The observation cars carried parlor seats for local travel.[1]

The train operated on an overnight schedule, covering the 1,034 miles (1,664 km) between Denver and Chicago in 16 to 16½ hours. Within an additional 2 years, an additional dinette coach and an all-room sleeper were added.

The trainsets were refurbished in the winter of 1948-49 and continued to operate in DZ service until October 1956, at which point they were reassigned to the Denver-Fort Worth/Dallas Texas Zephyr route operated by Burlington subsidiaries Colorado and Southern and Fort Worth and Denver Railways.

The second Denver Zephyr

By the early 1950s, Union Pacific began reequipping its competing City of Denver with new equipment. In addition, the Burlington, Denver and Rio Grande Western, and Western Pacific Railroads replaced their heavyweight Chicago-Oakland Exposition Flyer with a new streamlined California Zephyr carrying Vista-domes. Both of these trains began to divert passengers away from the DZ. However, ridership remained very respectable. But the nature of the train's consist — semi-articulated with a unique braking, steam connection system that was incompatible with other standard equipment — meant that the additional cars could not be added to the train proper, but rather had to be added ahead of the baggage car, or as a separate section. These cars thus needed their own food service, compromising the economics of adding the additional cars. As a result, the Burlington decided in 1955 to reequip the train with more conventional non-articulated equipment. Thus was conceived the last complete streamlined train to be built for a private railroad in the United States.

The new stainless steel train, also built by the Budd Company, offered all room sleeping accommodations and, in addition to a full diner, offered a coffee shop car called the Chuckwagon. Parlor seats continued to be available in the observation car. Because of the popularity of the Denver-Chicago segment of the Vista-dome California Zephyr, the new train also carried Vista-Domes. In addition, a new all room sleeping accommodation, the slumbercoach, offered private sleeping facilities, with in-room washstand and toilet, to passengers at coach fares plus a small surcharge. These cars were revolutionary in their use of fiberglass room modules. Each train carried two and they always were sold out, even up to the beginning of Amtrak. By 1959, slumbercoaches would appear on the trains of four other railroads, although three would later give them up. Between 1959 and late 1964, CB&Q’s four cars and Northern Pacific Railway’s four cars were pooled in Denver Zephyr / North Coast Limited service. The pool required tight scheduling and good timekeeping and was discontinued when NP acquired eight additional slumbercoaches second-hand.[2] Even though only 18 of these revolutionary cars were built new, they remained popular, even after operation of rail passenger service was assumed by Amtrak, and carried passengers until the mid-1990s, when age and changes in passenger car requirements forced their retirement.

The second Denver Zephyr began operation at the end of October 1956 and within a short time eclipsed its competitor, the Union Pacific Railroad's City of Denver. As the train was now composed of conventional equipment, it could be expanded with other cars of Burlington streamlined passenger car fleet as well as leased cars. During the summer months, trains of 20 or more cars were not uncommon and during that and holiday seasons, the train was often split into two sections.

1960 Denver Zephyr route[3]
Distance Station
Head stop
0 Colorado Springs
Station on track
75 mi (121 km) Denver
Unrestricted border on track
Colorado/Nebraska border
Stop on track
330 mi (530 km) McCook
Station on track
558 mi (898 km) Lincoln
Station on track
613 mi (987 km) Omaha
Unrestricted border on track
Nebraska/Iowa border
Stop on track
908 mi (1,461 km) Burlington
Bridge over water
Mississippi River Iowa/Illinois border
End station
1,114 mi (1,793 km) Chicago

With the 1956 reequipping, the train also began to serve Colorado Springs. Sandwiched between the diner and the Chuckwagon, the section consisted of a coach, a slumbercoach, and a sleeper. These cars ran on the Denver and Rio Grande Railway's Royal Gorge passenger train between Denver and Colorado Springs.

Initially, the Chuckwagon operated with the section on to Colorado Springs, but, by the mid 1960s, to allow a longer service time between runs, the car ran only to Denver and a dome coach was substituted for the Chicago-Colorado Springs coach. On January 1, 1967, the Colorado Springs section was replaced by a bus connection.

Though the number of cars were reduced during the off-season, the train ran more-or-less intact until September 7, 1968, when the Chuckwagon became seasonal and the observation car, with its flat end and rear-diaphragm, became a midtrain lounge during the off season. The train was retained by Amtrak in May 1971.

The Zephyr under Amtrak

At a time when the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad had become part of the merged Burlington Northern Railroad, Amtrak, in its first year of operation, 1971, decided to keep the Denver Zephyr as a daily operation between Chicago and Denver. Because the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway declined to join Amtrak, the triweekly Union Pacific/Southern Pacific City of San Francisco was diverted from Cheyenne into Denver for combination with the Zephyr to Chicago. Initially, during the summer of 1971, traffic was sufficient for the City and the Zephyr to operate as separate trains between Denver and Chicago. During this time, all coach cars on the DZ generally carried domes. However, as the off season occurred, the two trains were combined on the days the City ran. By 1972, the City of San Francisco portion of the train was operating daily and the name San Francisco Zephyr was applied to the combined train. For a few years thereafter, the Denver Zephyr had its own columns in the Amtrak timetable, but did not exist operationally as a separate train. Eventually, this fiction was dropped and the Denver Zephyr name was relegated to the history books. Although the San Francisco Zephyr carried Chicago-Denver cars, these eventually dwindled to a single storage mail car. The Chicago-Denver slumbercoaches were removed from the train in 1975, being reassigned to eastern trains.

In 1983, the Rio Grande, which had been operating the sole remaining segment of the original California Zephyr, decided to make a deal with Amtrak to cover the service. Thus the San Francisco Zephyr was re-routed via the Rio Grande. At that time, the train was renamed the California Zephyr. This train continues to run today.


  1. ^ "Ten-Car Zephyr in Thousand-Mile Race" Popular Mechanics, April 1936
  2. ^ Stauss, John, F., Jr (2001). Northern Pacific Pictorial volume 5: Domes, RDCs, and Slumbercoaches. La Mirada, California: Four Ways West Publications. ISBN 1-885614-45-4. 
  3. ^ Timetable Treasury. New York: Wayner Publications. 1979. p. 144. 

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Zephyr (Begriffsklärung) — Zephyr oder Zephir bezeichnet: eine Figur der griechischen Mythologie, siehe: Zephyr ein feinfädriges Baumwollgewebe eine Baureihe der britischen Automobilmarke Ford, siehe: Ford Zephyr eine Baureihe der US amerikanischen Automobilmarke Lincoln,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Denver County — Denver Spitzname: Mile High City Skyline Denver …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Zephyr Mountain Lodge Winter Park (Winter Park) — Zephyr Mountain Lodge Winter Park country: United States, city: Winter Park (Winter Park Ski Village) Zephyr Mountain Lodge Winter Park Winter Park s premier slope side property, the Zephyr Mountain Lodge is steps away from the Zephyr Express… …   International hotels

  • Denver, Colorado — Denver  Cet article concerne la ville américaine de l État du Colorado. Pour les autres significations, voir Denver (homonymie). Denver …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Denver (Colorado) — Denver  Cet article concerne la ville américaine de l État du Colorado. Pour les autres significations, voir Denver (homonymie). Denver …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Denver — Spitzname: Mile High City Skyline Denver …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad — For the 1952 film, see Denver and Rio Grande (film). Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad …   Wikipedia

  • Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad — Die Denver Rio Grande Western Railroad, abgekürzt D RGW, war eine der ältesten Bahngesellschaften im Westen der USA. Schon Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts baute die 1870 als Denver Rio Grande Railway gegründete Gesellschaft schmalspurige… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad — Le Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (sigle AAR: DRGW), généralement appelé Rio Grande, était un chemin de fer américain de classe I qui débuta sa carrière sous le nom de Denver and Rio Grande Railroad en 1870. Sa ligne à écartement étroit… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad — Die Denver Rio Grande Western Railroad, abgekürzt D RGW, war eine der ältesten Bahngesellschaften im Westen der USA. Schon Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts baute die 1870 als Denver Rio Grande Railway gegründete Gesellschaft schmalspurige… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.