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Southwest Chief vs Texas Eagle from Chicago to LA: route differences?

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Blackshirt Husker

Service Attendant
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Dec 12, 2010
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107
Hello all--

I'm taking a trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, and am choosing between the Southwest Chief and the Texas Eagle. Besides the quicker travel time on the SWC (not necessarily an advantage since I love being on the train), are there any distinctive differences between the two routes that would make one more appealing than the other? I'm thinking in terms of scenery, food, SCA and on-board staff (every route is different, lol), interesting train station stops along the way, etc). Interested to hear opinions--thanks in advance!
 

oregon pioneer

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near Seneca, Oregon
I have only taken the Texas Eagle between LAX and San Anttonio, but I've taken the Southwest Chief all the way from CHI to LAX, and I like them both. If I had to make a choice, the scenery on the Southwest Chieft would win out (as would the fact that the route will be changed away for the famous Raton Pass area in the next years), but if it was a round-trip, there's no question: I'd take both!
 

zephyr17

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Washington State
Scenery is better on the SWC, with Raton and Glorietta passes, IMHO. You are going through northern New Mexico instead of West Texas. While West Texas isn't flat and you go through mountains, particularly near Alpine and south of El Paso, the scenery is not as interesting. Also bear in mind that the current routing of the Southwest Chief is endangered, and the route through Raton and Glorietta passes is not likely to be used within a couple of years.

The route through northern New Mexico is a veritable signal museum, with targets, classic cantilevers, and the only remaining working semaphores in the US outside of museums and tourist railroads. It also still has quite a few of the old point-of-interest signs that Santa Fe put up along its ROW for its passengers.

Both the SW Chief and the Sunset are crew-based in LA and usually have pretty decent crews, although like most of Amtrak, there is wide variability. The Texas Eagle portion to San Antonio is crew based out Chicago, though. Your attendant will switch in San Antonio.
 
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R

robbndebb

Guest
Ride the Southwest Chief. It may not be around a couple years from now due to infighting among Amtrak, the states,and congress. No one wants to pay for necessary track upgrades.
 

dart330

OBS Chief
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Feb 3, 2009
Messages
548
Location
Houston, TX
The equipment and staff on the TE out of CHI to SAS always seem to be sub-par (cross country cafe vs real diner, one locomotive vs two, and CHI vs LA staff).

TE is not as bad SAS - LAX since you are tacked on the rear of the SL, but you do have to walk through 2 or 3 coaches to get to the lounge.

I'd definitely take the SWC if I had the option. Better equipment, staff and scenery.
 

Meat Puppet

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Apr 14, 2009
Messages
342
I like the TE for the extra night on the train. I like to get out and look around at the 45 minute stops in st louis and little rock, plus the 1 hour+ stops in ft worth and dallas

are great to walk around the city. The 5 hour san antonio stop is great to barhop on the riverfront. The up to 90min stop in tucson is great to walk around downtown. Also I think

its interesting to ride along next to the mexican border fence. Thats why I like the TE, fron CHI-LAX.
 
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benale

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jul 11, 2006
Messages
356
Is it a round trip? Take the SW Chief out and the Eagle back. Both trains have their advantages. The TE gives you one more day on the train. Granted, the SWC has the better scenery, but West Texas isn't bad. Can't wait for my next trip. Hopefully double points will be back in the fall so I can continue racking up AGR points.
 

FrensicPic

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LAX
If the westbound SL/TE is late enough out of San Antonio and Del Rio, it will be light enough to see when you cross the Pecos River High Bridge. Got to see that last December returning to LA. It was still dark though when we left Del Rio and crossed the Amistad Reservoir bridge.

On the SWC, Padre Canyon and Canyon Diablo are both crossed in darkness (both directions)
 
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George Harris

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now in California
The Southwest Chief gives you the only plus 79 mph running outside the Northeast (I am sure someone will correct me if I have overlooked some). There are many miles at 90 mph. It also has some of the roughest track, at least that is what I hear, this is not by experience, Amtrak uses, in the Kansas-Colorado-northeast New Mexico section that has almost no trains other than Amtrak.

BNSF is the host for the entire SWC route. Union Pacific is the host for all the TE/SL route except Chicago to Joliet and Ft. Worth to Temple TX. The BNSF is all the former AT&SF route of the Super Chief except Chicago to Galesburg which is former CB&O route of the Denver Zephyr and California Zephyr. The UP line is all UP as a result of the merger mania of several years back. Chicago to St. Louis was GM&O, previously Alton Route, St. Louis to Texarkana, Missouri Pacific previously St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern, Texarkana to Ft. Worth, Texas and Pacific, for many years also part of MoPac, but maintaining its identity, Ft. Worth to Temple on a part of BNSF that was AT&SF's Gulf Colorado and Santa Fe, then back to UP, first Temple to Taylor on the MKT, then back on MoPac's IGN, that is International and Great Northern for the rest of the trip except the last couple of miles. South of Austin part of the route has closely parallel ex MoPac and MKT track that are shared, I think functionally as double track. The San Antonio station is the ex Southern Pacific station so a rather awkward shuffle to get to the last couple of ex Southern Pacific tracks to reach the station. After leaving San Antonio it is all ex Southern Pacific.
 
G

guest

Guest
The Southwest Chief gives you the only plus 79 mph running outside the Northeast (I am sure someone will correct me if I have overlooked some). There are many miles at 90 mph. It also has some of the roughest track, at least that is what I hear, this is not by experience, Amtrak uses, in the Kansas-Colorado-northeast New Mexico section that has almost no trains other than Amtrak.
BNSF is the host for the entire SWC route. Union Pacific is the host for all the TE/SL route except Chicago to Joliet and Ft. Worth to Temple TX. The BNSF is all the former AT&SF route of the Super Chief except Chicago to Galesburg which is former CB&O route of the Denver Zephyr and California Zephyr. The UP line is all UP as a result of the merger mania of several years back. Chicago to St. Louis was GM&O, previously Alton Route, St. Louis to Texarkana, Missouri Pacific previously St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern, Texarkana to Ft. Worth, Texas and Pacific, for many years also part of MoPac, but maintaining its identity, Ft. Worth to Temple on a part of BNSF that was AT&SF's Gulf Colorado and Santa Fe, then back to UP, first Temple to Taylor on the MKT, then back on MoPac's IGN, that is International and Great Northern for the rest of the trip except the last couple of miles. South of Austin part of the route has closely parallel ex MoPac and MKT track that are shared, I think functionally as double track. The San Antonio station is the ex Southern Pacific station so a rather awkward shuffle to get to the last couple of ex Southern Pacific tracks to reach the station. After leaving San Antonio it is all ex Southern Pacific.
Did the Texas Eagle originally only run as far north to St. Louis when it was first created as a named train in the late 1940s? I vaguely remember my father taking it from St. Louis to Dallas several times but never north.
 

zephyr17

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Washington State
The Southwest Chief gives you the only plus 79 mph running outside the Northeast (I am sure someone will correct me if I have overlooked some). There are many miles at 90 mph. It also has some of the roughest track, at least that is what I hear, this is not by experience, Amtrak uses, in the Kansas-Colorado-northeast New Mexico section that has almost no trains other than Amtrak.
The Pacific Surfliners also have some 90mph running south of Santa Ana and through Camp Pendleton. That is also former Santa Fe ATS territory that was never deactivated. There is some higher speed trackage in Michigan as well.
 

zephyr17

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Jul 22, 2009
Messages
4,056
Location
Washington State
The Southwest Chief gives you the only plus 79 mph running outside the Northeast (I am sure someone will correct me if I have overlooked some). There are many miles at 90 mph. It also has some of the roughest track, at least that is what I hear, this is not by experience, Amtrak uses, in the Kansas-Colorado-northeast New Mexico section that has almost no trains other than Amtrak.
BNSF is the host for the entire SWC route. Union Pacific is the host for all the TE/SL route except Chicago to Joliet and Ft. Worth to Temple TX. The BNSF is all the former AT&SF route of the Super Chief except Chicago to Galesburg which is former CB&O route of the Denver Zephyr and California Zephyr. The UP line is all UP as a result of the merger mania of several years back. Chicago to St. Louis was GM&O, previously Alton Route, St. Louis to Texarkana, Missouri Pacific previously St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern, Texarkana to Ft. Worth, Texas and Pacific, for many years also part of MoPac, but maintaining its identity, Ft. Worth to Temple on a part of BNSF that was AT&SF's Gulf Colorado and Santa Fe, then back to UP, first Temple to Taylor on the MKT, then back on MoPac's IGN, that is International and Great Northern for the rest of the trip except the last couple of miles. South of Austin part of the route has closely parallel ex MoPac and MKT track that are shared, I think functionally as double track. The San Antonio station is the ex Southern Pacific station so a rather awkward shuffle to get to the last couple of ex Southern Pacific tracks to reach the station. After leaving San Antonio it is all ex Southern Pacific.
Did the Texas Eagle originally only run as far north to St. Louis when it was first created as a named train in the late 1940s? I vaguely remember my father taking it from St. Louis to Dallas several times but never north.
Yes, the whole MP Eagle fleet originated out of St. Louis. Hard to believe now, but St. Louis was almost as big a rail hub as Chicago once upon a time. It was a better place to change trains, too, since everything went into one station.
 
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oldtimer

OBS Chief
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Sep 23, 2006
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rollin along the high iron
The Southwest Chief gives you the only plus 79 mph running outside the Northeast (I am sure someone will correct me if I have overlooked some). There are many miles at 90 mph. It also has some of the roughest track, at least that is what I hear, this is not by experience, Amtrak uses, in the Kansas-Colorado-northeast New Mexico section that has almost no trains other than Amtrak.
The Pacific Surfliners also have some 90mph running south of Santa Ana and through Camp Pendleton. That is also former Santa Fe ATS territory that was never deactivated. There is some higher speed trackage in Michigan as well.
I had an earlier post that must be lost in cyberspace with some of the same info and also that stretch in Illinois that is part of the Chicago - St. Louis corridor is over 79mph between Dwight and Pontiac.
 

Eric S

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Dec 19, 2009
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Milwaukee
The Southwest Chief gives you the only plus 79 mph running outside the Northeast (I am sure someone will correct me if I have overlooked some). There are many miles at 90 mph. It also has some of the roughest track, at least that is what I hear, this is not by experience, Amtrak uses, in the Kansas-Colorado-northeast New Mexico section that has almost no trains other than Amtrak.
The Pacific Surfliners also have some 90mph running south of Santa Ana and through Camp Pendleton. That is also former Santa Fe ATS territory that was never deactivated. There is some higher speed trackage in Michigan as well.
I had an earlier post that must be lost in cyberspace with some of the same info and also that stretch in Illinois that is part of the Chicago - St. Louis corridor is over 79mph between Dwight and Pontiac.
Right, there is 110mph trackage in Michigan and Illinois (although a rather short segment in IL at this time).
 

George Harris

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now in California
The Southwest Chief gives you the only plus 79 mph running outside the Northeast (I am sure someone will correct me if I have overlooked some). There are many miles at 90 mph. It also has some of the roughest track, at least that is what I hear, this is not by experience, Amtrak uses, in the Kansas-Colorado-northeast New Mexico section that has almost no trains other than Amtrak.
The Pacific Surfliners also have some 90mph running south of Santa Ana and through Camp Pendleton. That is also former Santa Fe ATS territory that was never deactivated. There is some higher speed trackage in Michigan as well.
I had an earlier post that must be lost in cyberspace with some of the same info and also that stretch in Illinois that is part of the Chicago - St. Louis corridor is over 79mph between Dwight and Pontiac.
Right, there is 110mph trackage in Michigan and Illinois (although a rather short segment in IL at this time).
Yup. Had that needling thought that I was missing a few things. Here is one more, but maybe should be considered with the Northeast. Some of or most of the ex- New York Central line between New York City and Albany allows 110 mph.

Back to the Texas Eagle, original incarnation: Yes, it originated in St. Louis, but it had through cars to Chicago handled in GM&O trains, in other words on the same route the through train runs over today.
 

Blackshirt Husker

Service Attendant
Joined
Dec 12, 2010
Messages
107
This is why I love this board. Lots of good information here in all of the replies so far, and thanks to everyone.

I didn't know that the SWC route was in jeopardy, so I'm going to go with the Chief this time. I've ridden segments of both the Eagle and the Chief, but this will be the first time I've taken the Chief all the way from Chicago to LA. I agree with the comments about the Eagle staff and equipment (although I was shocked at how much I ended up liking the "transition dorm" last time--I almost literally had the entire car to myself from Chicago to San Antonio).

To answer the question about whether it's a round trip: it'll actually be the SWC to LA, then the Coast Starlight up to Eugene, and then eventually the Empire Builder back to Chicago. Sometimes it seems as though the anticipation of all that down time on the train is almost as good as the trip itself--can't wait! :)
 

Bob Dylan

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Austin Texas
:hi: Wise choice! The Eagle is my Home Train and my first Sleeper ride was on the old SP Sunset Ltd. Streamliner (I'm Old! :giggle: ) but there isnt much to say for this Route except its More Time on the Train and it is a LD Train! Enjoy the Chief, the Starlight and the Builder, three Great Trains! Look forward to your Trip Report!! ;)
 
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George Harris

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now in California
Did the Texas Eagle originally only run as far north to St. Louis when it was first created as a named train in the late 1940s? I vaguely remember my father taking it from St. Louis to Dallas several times but never north.
Yes, the whole MP Eagle fleet originated out of St. Louis. Hard to believe now, but St. Louis was almost as big a rail hub as Chicago once upon a time. It was a better place to change trains, too, since everything went into one station.
There were through cars into Chicago handled in a GM&O train. I think at one time there were through sleepers to a couple of east coast points. There was a through sleeper to Mexico City for a while.

Up until the late 1950's it was scheduled as two trains out of St. Louis. They were designated the West Texas Eagle, which ran to Dallas and Ft. Worth, and I think had through cars to El Paso, and the South Texas Eagle that was split at Longview or Palestine, I forget which, into a Houston train and a San Antonio train. Each of these picked up a sleeper, and maybe a coach or two, at Little Rock from Memphis. I know there was a Memphis - Ft. Worth sleeper and a Memphis - Houston sleeper. Don't know if there was ever a Memphis - San Antonio sleeper. Connections were made at Marshall with a train out of New Orleans, and I am fairly sure there were through cars but do not remember where to/from. There was also a train out of Little Rock to Lake Charles LA that carried through cars, or at the least a through sleeper out of St, Louis.

The St. Louis to San Antonio time was much faster than now because it did not go through Ft. Worth to get there.
 

smee

Train Attendant
Joined
Mar 8, 2011
Messages
70
Hello all--
I'm taking a trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, and am choosing between the Southwest Chief and the Texas Eagle. Besides the quicker travel time on the SWC (not necessarily an advantage since I love being on the train), are there any distinctive differences between the two routes that would make one more appealing than the other? I'm thinking in terms of scenery, food, SCA and on-board staff (every route is different, lol), interesting train station stops along the way, etc). Interested to hear opinions--thanks in advance!
Thank you for this post as I think I may do a Cardinal/SWC trip to LA next April.
 
J

Joy

Guest
Hello all--
I'm taking a trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, and am choosing between the Southwest Chief and the Texas Eagle. Besides the quicker travel time on the SWC (not necessarily an advantage since I love being on the train), are there any distinctive differences between the two routes that would make one more appealing than the other? I'm thinking in terms of scenery, food, SCA and on-board staff (every route is different, lol), interesting train station stops along the way, etc). Interested to hear opinions--thanks in advance!
After our next trip in September, we will have taken either the Empire Builder, Zephyr, or Chief round trip 4 times in 18 months. Since I can't get enough of train travel I was excited when I noticed you can find a roomette on the Eagle for the same price as the Chief....and you get almost a whole another day of travel. In April we took the Chief to LA from Chicago and returned on the Zephyr. No trip can equal the Zephyr for scenery (in my opinion)......have ridden it twice. My least favorite route is the Chief.....I was disappointed and will always take the Eagle to LA from now on. (I realize I haven't yet experienced the Eagle, and I know the scenery won't be thrilling, but the Chief's trip is over too quickly (and not that much scenery either). So we are looking forward to a nice long round trip from Chicago to LA and back September 10.
 

greatcats

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Flagstaff, Arizona
I respectfully disagree about the scenery on the Southwest Chief. While the CZ has it beat, the scenery through New Mexico on the present route with its passes and wide open scenes out of the American West are not to be sneezed at !!! Just my opinion.
 
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