Amtrak’s Sunset Limited (Train 1 and 2) was the only transcontinental service across the USA and ran from Los Angeles, California skirting the Southern coast all the way to Orlando, Florida. For a short while it went all the way to Miami but the service was then terminated in Orlando meaning a change to either the Silver Star or Silver Meteor service if you were destined for Miami.
The Sunset Limited ran three services a week in each direction with journey times of nearly 3 days (68 hours) covering 2764 miles (4448 km) making it the longest passenger train service in the USA.
Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina including the loss of two bridges, the Sunset Limited service was terminated at San Antonio, Texas and the service between San Antonio and Los Angeles was provided by the Texas Eagle service. The service has now been extended from San Antonio as far as New Orleans and it had been hoped to restore the full service east of New Orleans in the Spring of 2006 but the remaining service is still suspended
The Future of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited
For 10 years since the eastern end of the line was closed following Hurricane Katrina, Amtrak has expressed no immediate desire to re-instate the Alabama and Florida portion of the Sunset Limited service east of New Orleans.
In February 2016 an Amtrak “inspection” train left New Orleans destined for Jacksonville to look into the feasibility of reintroducing passenger services between New Orleans and Orlando.
Pre Hurricane Katrina
Prior to Katrina, Train 1 operated the westbound service leaving Orlando at 6:50 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays arriving in Los Angeles the following Friday, Sunday and Tuesday. The eastbound Train 2 left Los Angeles at 2:30pm on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays and arrived in Orlando on the following Wednesday, Friday and Monday.
Amongst the main stops were Palm Springs in California, Lordsburg in New Mexico, Tuscon in Arizona, El Paso, San Antonio and Houston in Texas, New Orleans in Louisiana, Biloxi in Mississippi, Mobile in Alabama and then Jacksonville and Orlando in Florida.
Stops in Florida were Pensacola, Crestview, Chipley (Panama City), the state capital Tallahassee, Madison, Lake City, and then it followed the Silver Star and Silver Meteor route through Jacksonville, Palatka, DeLand, Winter Park and finally Orlando.
A number of destinations on the Florida Gulf Coast were catered for by a Thruway motor coach service (see panel).
To see the full list, check out the list of Amtrak stations in Florida including Thruway connections.
The Sunset Limited has been one of the most criticised and weakest performing long distance Amtrak routes so there seems little incentive for Amtrak to re-instate the Florida section of the route even though the New Orleans to Orlando section of the route accounted for around 40% of the passengers.
On March 13, 2012 Amtrak announced a new schedule starting May 7 with revised departure times and a reduced layover in San Antonio resulting in shorter journey times. But still no mention of a Florida service.
The westbound Sunset Limited (Train 1) will leave New Orleans on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 9 am, arriving in Los Angeles at 5:35 am on Wednesdays, Fridays and Mondays. This replaces the previous Monday, Wednesday, Friday departure schedule.
The eastbound Sunset Limited (Train 2) still leaves Los Angeles on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays but the train will again leave earlier at 10 pm. Arrival time in New Orleans in 9:40 pm on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
The rest of the information on this page is written as the service was, prior to Hurricane Katrina.
Because you are travelling right across the USA from the Pacific to the Atlantic, you pass through several time zones en route, from Pacific Standard Time in the west to Eastern Standard Time in the east, a 3 hour difference. Note that Arizona does not observe daylight saving so local times will be one hour earlier during the summer.
Due to the long distance and freight railroad congestion, the Sunset Limited is often behind schedule and delays of 6 to 12 hours are not uncommon.
En route you cross the Mississippi River on the Huey P. Long Bridge west of New Orleans. At 135 ft (41 m) tall and 4.5 miles (7.2 km) long, it is the longest railroad bridge in the USA.
Volunteer rangers from the National Park Service provide a narrative along the route, courtesy of the Trails and Rails Program as you pass through the Southwestern desert close to the Mexican border before skirting the Gulf Coast and on through the Bayou swamps into Florida.
Seating and Sleeping Cars
All seats must be reserved and the cheapest tickets are a Coach Seat or a Lower Level Coach Seat in one of the bi-level Superliner coaches which is a bit like a typical Business Class airline seat, which reclines with a fold down tray and individual reading lamp.
It you want a bit more privacy and to sleep in a bed then there is a choice of a Superliner Roomette, Superliner Bedroom or Family Bedroom.
The Superliner Roomette is designed for one or two passengers with two comfortable reclining seats facing each other by a large picture window. At night the seats convert into a bed and a second upper berth folds down from the wall. The cabin also includes a garment rack, fold-down table and climate control. Roomettes are situated on both decks of the Superliner sleeping cars.
Note that the cabin does not have a washbasin, toilet or shower; these are located nearby in the same car The Superliner Bedroom is similar to the Roomette but can accommodate three passengers at a pinch (two sharing the lower berth). Most of the facilities are the same as the Roomette, but the lower berth converts from a two seater sofa and the room also has an enclosed toilet and private shower and a separate armchair. Superliner Bedrooms are located on the upper level of the Superliner sleeping cars.
For a family of four (2 adults and 2 children), there is the Family Bedroom which spans the entire width of the car and has two picture windows.
A sofa and two reclining seats convert into two lower beds and the two upper berths (suitable for children) fold down from the wall.
Family Bedrooms are located on the lower level of the Superliner sleeping cars and have the same facilities as the Roomettes, i.e. they do not have en-suite toilet and shower facilities.
For larger parties there is a Superliner Bedroom Suite which is two adjoining Superliner Bedrooms.
For wheelchair passengers, there is also the Superliner Accessible Bedroom
The Superliner Accessible Bedroom spans the whole width of the car on the lower level and has ample space for a wheelchair. The lower berth is suitable for a passenger with a mobility impairment and the upper berth for a companion. There is also a wheelchair accessible toilet in the cabin and meals can be served in the cabin if required.
Thruway connections provide a co-ordinated train/motor coach service with connections at the Amtrak station.
From Orlando you can connect to Lakeland, Tampa and St. Petersburg.
American Coach Lines also provide door-to-door shuttle van service between Amtrak’s Orlando station and Orlando-area hotels and attractions. Their vans meet the arrivals and departures of all Amtrak trains at Orlando.
With a Superliner sleeper ticket you are given First Class status and all your meals are included in the price of the ticket as well as fresh towels and bedlinen, soap and shower amenities, turn-down service, bottled water and a wake-up service with coffee, tea, juice and daily newspaper.
Dining & Entertainment
The Sunset Limited has a full-service Dining Car and a Sightseer Lounge Car.
Hot meals are prepared for breakfast, lunch and dinner for both Coach and First Class passengers.
The Sightseer Lounge/Cafe Car has a lounge on the upper deck with large panoramic windows extending right up into the roof with a cafe on the lower deck.
You can watch movies in the Lounge, play games or grab a sandwich, snack and a beverage.
Note that the Sunset Limited is a strictly no smoking service. Passengers wishing to smoke may smoke on some station platforms during stops but listen out for the ‘All Aboard’ announcements.
Each passenger is entitled to bring aboard up to two pieces of carry-on baggage (weight limit of 50 lbs per bag and maximum size of 28 x 22 x 14 inches) excluding personal items such as briefcases, purses, laptops, and infant items such as strollers, diaper bags and car seats.
At most stations, you can also check in up to three pieces of luggage at no charge (weight limit of 50 lbs per bag and maximum size of 36 x 36 x 36 inches). An additional three pieces can be checked in with a charge of $10.00 per bag.
Look out for the official Red Caps to help you with your baggage when arriving at the station.