Prior to the creation of Amtrak as a single nationwide rail passenger system, there was a lot of variety. With many different railroads, operating many different trains, using many different types of cars. A situation which after such cars were inherited by a unified Amtrak, eventually became a maintenance nightmare. Given this lack of uniformity with parts and maintenance procedures. But in another era, it was more appropriate to tailor specific trains and services to specific routes and schedules. The result was a fascinating collection of different railroad cars throughout the country.

Consist As A Noun?

With the accent on the first syllable, a consist is the set of cars assigned to make up a train. Most named trains would operate daily, with each train requiring certain cars in its consist. For a shorter distance train, up to a few hundred miles, one consist could be scheduled to make a daily round trip. But for train schedules which require a full day or overnight, a second identical consist is needed. With each consist operating one direction one day, and returning the next day. Such was the case typically for overnight trains from Chicago to New York or Denver. But longer distance trains would require even more consists, or sets of equipment. A typical train from Chicago to the Pacific Coast would require five or six sets of equipment, for a daily schedule.

The amount of details on historical information on streamliners, varied among different railroads. Some railroads assigned specific cars to specific trains, while other railroads had general pools of cars.

Listed for each train is the typical consist, from the baggage cars at the front to the observation car typically at the rear. Cars are listed in actual sequence whenever possible, but this information was not always available. Also listed are the specific cars normally assigned to each train, including manufacturers and years built. For certain early streamlined trains with specifically assigned locomotives or power units, those are also mentioned.

Some streamliners were nevertheless assigned a few heavyweight cars. Some heavyweight cars were rebuilt with a streamlined appearance, and generally are listed. But assigned to certain trains were a few cars not mentioned in either of the two books of reference. These cars are assumed to be heavyweights, especially sleeping cars which contained mostly "section" accommodations.

And there are some additional discrepancies, between the cars listed in the two books of reference, and the cars listed in the timetables or Official Guide of the Railways as assigned to the trains. These must be left as unexplained.

Not listed are certain cars operating over over only a portion of a train's run, and switched to and from other trains. Some such cars were heavyweight cars. And some such cars operated on the listed train in one direction only, carried in the opposite direction by a different train.

In this age of the computer, individual railroad cars are normally identified by number. But in the early days of streamlined cars, many cars were identified strictly by name. Many such cars eventually did receive numbers, although numbers were not necessarily painted on the cars, strictly used internally.

Where a listed train consist included cars with names, the names are mentioned, except where the cars were too numerous, or from a general pool of cars. For many groups of cars on many railroads, the car names would consist of two words, one word being the same for all cars of a certain group. For example, the Union Pacific Railroad had a group of sleeping cars with names all beginning with "Pacific". The word common to a large group of cars would be mentioned in a listed consist, followed or preceded by a blank line. For example, "Pacific _____".

Types Of Passenger Cars

Besides coaches, long distance trains of the past featured most of the same basic amenities as on today's Amtrak trains, including sleeping cars, dining cars, and lounges. Also, "behind the scenes", trains included dormitory, or dorm accommodations, for the dining car crews and lounge car attendants.

Also mentioned for certain trains are "divided coaches", operating in southern states when segregation was the law.

With most dining cars, half of the car was a dining room and the other half was a kitchen. But there were some high capacity "twin unit" diners, consisting of two separate dining room and kitchen cars.

Two types of cars no longer in use by Amtrak are dome cars and observation cars. Although in Canada, Via Rail continues to use such cars, most notably the "Park" series dome sleeper observation cars. Observation cars were specifically designed to operate at the end of a train. Streamlined observation cars usually consisted of a rounded end with windows, offering views in several directions. Although some observation cars had a flatter end, allowing greater flexibility with an option for mid train operation. It is possibly the inflexibility of use, which resulted in Amtrak phasing out such cars.

Sleeping Car Accommodations

Prior to the development of streamlined cars, the standard sleeping car accommodations were "sections", with upper and lower berths, and curtains offering the only privacy. Sections are perhaps most familiar to viewers of certain classic movies, such as "Some Like It Hot" or "42nd Street". The latter includes the song "Shuffle Off To Buffalo", set in a sleeping car. But streamlined sleeping cars typically included private rooms of different sizes or configurations. Most sleeping car types contained multiple room types. The listed train consists include mention of the sleeping car types, using the following abbreviations.

S - Section, described above
R - Roomette - accommodated one person
BR - Bedroom - had a lower and upper bed, for two persons
C - Compartment - for two persons, slightly larger than a Bedroom
DR - Drawing Room - accommodated three persons
MR - Master Room - larger than a Drawing Room, on PRR Broadway Limited observation car
DUP - Duplex Roomette - compact roomette, with room levels staggered
CH - Chamberette - only existed on a few trains, no further information available