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Midwest Rail Rangers on TrainWeb: Amtrak's Last Dome Car up for Auction

Midwest Rail Rangers - Amtrak's Last Dome Car Up for Auction

A Article by the Midwest Rail Rangers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization presenting onboard educational programs across the Upper Midwest


Robert Tabern - President, Midwest Rail Rangers &
Kandace Tabern - Educational Officer, Midwest Rail Rangers

Published: November 8, 2019

Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern poses with his HO-scale model of Amtrak's "Ocean View" next to the real dome car in 2018

Yet another sad day for passenger rail in America is about to happen --- possibly even before the calendar flips to 2020. On Tuesday, October 8, 2019, Amtrak sent an e-mail out to those in the private railcar industry advising that numerous pieces of equipment were being put up for bid. Buried deep on the auction sheet among three heritage baggage cars, eight GE P42 locomotives, a switcher, a heritage diner, and numerous other pieces of equipment was "Ocean View" #10031, Amtrak's last remaining dome car. Bids on "Ocean View" closed on November 8, 2019... with the winner likely notified in the coming months. Clearly, Amtrak has no desire to hold on to this special piece of equipment given its current management.

"Ocean View" stands out to railroad historians and riders alike... because it was the last surviving dome car in Amtrak's fleet. However, its beginnings go back to the 1950’s and the Great Northern Railroad. Compared to the Burlington, Santa Fe, and the Milwaukee Road, the Great Northern was slow to adopt dome cars for its passenger trains. Management thought that the cost of heating and cooling the dome interiors would be prohibitively expensive given the hot summers and cold winters along the Great Northern Hi-Line. Further, they thought the Empire Builder, which had already been re-equipped twice (1947 and 1951), could attract passengers without adding domes. News that the Northern Pacific Railway and the Milwaukee Road were adding domes to their transcontinental trains changed the Great Northern's tune. In 1953, the Great Northern ordered six Great Domes and sixteen short domes, enough to add one Great Dome and three short domes to the regular consist of the Empire Builder. One of the six Great Dome cars would be owned by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q), while the other five would be owned by the Great Northern. This shared-ownership agreement of the Great Domes was reached because the Empire Builder operated over the CB&Q between Chicago and the Twin Cities, while it operated over the Great Northern from Minnesota to the Northwest.




The Great Domes were made by Budd and began running on May 29, 1955. The five Great Domes owned by the Great Northern were named: "Glacier View" (Car #1390), "Ocean View" (Car #1391), "Mountain View" (Car #1392), "Lake View" (Car #1393), and "Prairie View" (Car #1394). The lone Great Dome owned by the CB&Q was named "River View" (Car #1395).

Between 1971 and 1979, the Great Domes remained on Amtrak’s version of the Empire Builder (which ran over the Milwaukee Road instead of the Burlington between Chicago and the Twin Cities). The arrival of then-new double-decker Superliner equipment in the late 1970's and early 1980's on Amtrak's western long-distance trains began to spell the demise of the Great Dome fleet. The placement of the doors on the double-decker Superliner cars were not compatible with the doors on the single-level Great Domes. This meant passengers could not walk between the domes and the Superliner cars... and they could not be used on the same trainsets. In addition, brand new Superliner Sightseer Lounge Cars were created; they were viewed as being better than the heritage domes (which were getting to be 25 years old at that point). While the Superliner Sightseer Lounge Cars were modeled on the heritage dome cars and had a second level of windows on each side, passengers were not able to see out the front and rear of these cars.

Many of the original passenger cars that Amtrak inherited, including the Great Domes, were heated by steam provided by a boiler in the train's locomotive. The steam system was difficult to control, prone to freezing a pipe bursts, and costly to maintain. Around the mid-1980's, Amtrak decided to completely upgrade some of its heritage cars. Others that were in such bad shape that it was not cost effective to upgrade them were sold off or scraped. This extensive modification involved converting the power supply in the car from a generator and batteries slung under each car to power supplied from the locomotive or head end of the train; the project was called the Head End Power or HEP project. Of the four remaining Great Domes in regular Amtrak service at the time, only three were chosen to be converted to HEP. "Ocean View" (initially re-numbered as Amtrak Car #9361) was the third and final Great Dome to receive the HEP re-build. It was re-numbered as Amtrak Car #9300.

Beginning in early 1985, 'River View', 'Mountain View', and 'Ocean View' were pressed into service on Amtrak's Auto Train, which operates on an 855-mile-long route between Lorton, Virginia (near Washington, DC) and Sanford, Florida (near Orlando). Auto Train was finally converted to Superliner equipment on March 1, 1995. This meant after a decade of use on the east coast, the three remaining Great Dome cars would have to find a new home because they were no longer compatible with the bi-level Superliners.




By May 1998, Amtrak management made the decision to move the base for the three remaining Great Domes, "Ocean View", "Mountain View", and "River View", from the east coast to the west coast. Single level trains were still operating between San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo on the San Diegan service, making them a good fit for dome lounges. Many people enjoyed sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean during the five years the Great Domes operated on this route. On June 1, 2000, new bi-level cars were introduced on Amtrak's regional railroad line through Southern California. The San Diegan name for the route also was changed to Pacific Surfliner, to better reflect that more trains were also running north of Los Angeles, to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Once again, this marked the end of regular service for the Great Domes on an Amtrak route.

In September 2000, Amtrak decided to move the three Great Dome cars to Chicago; the intention was to use them for special charter trains that were made up of single-level Amfleet or Horizon cars -- or perhaps as a private railcar charter on the back of Superliner trains where access between the Great Dome and the rest of the train wasn't essential. In early 2001, the cars were moved from Chicago to Amtrak's shops at Beech Grove for replacement of their trucks. Then-Amtrak President George Warrington made the decision not to spend money repairing two of the three cars; instead sidelining them from regular passenger service for good. "Mountain View" and "River View" were sold off in September 2001 for service on the privately-owned American Orient Express.

For the next 17 years, “Ocean View” was based in Los Angeles, but used on special charters… and even occasionally on public trains. If you rode on the 20th Century Railroad Club’s last Galena Limited charter in 2007, “Ocean View” was offered as a special First Class upgrade option at the rear of the train. In recent years, the car saw service during the fall months on the Hiawatha (Milwaukee-Chicago), Cardinal (Chicago-D.C.), Adirondack (Albany-Montreal), and Downeaster (Boston North Station-Brunswick, Maine). Between 2011 and 2015, the Illinois Department of Transportation sponsored the dome to run on various train routes --- including to St. Louis, Carbondale, and Quincy. The Michigan Department of Transportation did the same to Detroit and Pontiac.  The last public run of the car took place in New York State in October 2018. After sitting in Albany for six months, it was moved to Chicago and down to Beech Grove, Indiana in April 2019.




So who will end up with “Ocean View”? Speculation is running rampant. Some want either the Departments of Transportation in California, New York, or Maine to purchase the car. Given tight state budgets across the country… that would be unlikely. A distinct possibility is that the BNSF may want to purchase the car for its business fleet --- making it even more likely was the car was part of the Great Northern, which got absorbed into the BNSF.  And then any tourist railroad with money in the country could be realistic bidders.  We’ll just have to stay tuned for the answer… as we mourn the loss of Amtrak’s last dome over the long winter ahead.

For more information about "Ocean View" and the other Great Domes, the Midwest Rail Rangers manages

We hope you enjoyed this article/trip report from Midwest Rail Rangers on If you did, we hope you are also interested in learning more about the Midwest Rail Rangers. We are an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides on-board educational programs across the Midwest --- including two to three weekends per month year-round on the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana --- an on select weekends during the spring, summer, and fall months aboard the Wisconsin Great Northern's Sky Parlour Car in Trego, Wisconsin. We also present our programs on private rail excursions, Amtrak coach charters organized by the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago, and at outreach events. Our group of experienced Interpretive Guides have also written a series of railroad route guidebooks, e-books, and MP3 podcasts for the various passenger train lines across the Upper Midwest and across the United States. Check out our website at for more information and our listing of upcoming excursions and trips!


Wikipedia Article about Great Domes


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