“Off to see the Northwest, Good-bye all! Another happy vacation party heads for scenic Yellowstone Park, Rocky Mountains, Rainier Park, and other nationally famous regions. Their train, the North Coast Limited runs between Chicago, Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland via the Northern Pacific Railway.”
The above picture and caption showcase the commercial appeal of Northern Pacific’s (NP) premier passenger train, the North Coast Limited (NCL).
Departing from St. Paul, Minn., on April 29, 1900, the NCL made its maiden voyage to Puget Sound as one of the first named trains in the United States. It was joined in the Midwest-Pacific Northwest trade by Milwaukee Road’s Olympian in 1911 and Great Northern Railway’s Empire Builder in 1929.
Initially, the NCL operated in a limited capacity during the summer season. NP, however, quickly saw the popular appeal of the NCL and promoted the train to year-round service.
While the NCL achieved success in the early 1900s, it trailed the Empire Builder and Olympian in passenger occupancy rates later in the century until the streamliner era took hold of the industry in the 1940s.
The NCL benefited the most from the improvements of the era when Northern Pacific spent $65 million right after World War II to update the train’s equipment with lightweight, streamlined equipment from Pullman-Standard. At the same time, the train was equipped with new diesel-electric locomotives.
Extensive aesthetic upgrades in the mid-1950s included Vista-Dome cars, which offered passengers a panoramic view. The new cars’ sleek two-tone green exterior was complimented by a single white pinstripe. The interiors depicted stunning scenes of the Northern Plains and the Cascades Range.
While the artful elegance of the NCL certainly attracted customers to the railroad, the dining car service set the train apart from its competitors. Added in 1955, the Traveler’s Rest buffet lounge cars became the talk of the industry. Named after Lewis and Clark’s favorite campsite, the cars put the NCL once again into the forefront of the luxury train travel experience, which supported Northern Pacific’s efforts to continue long-distance rail passenger service in the grand manner.