The Southwest Chief (formerly the Southwest Limited and Super Chief) is a passenger train operated by Amtrak on a 2,265-mile (3,645 km) route through the Midwestern and Southwestern United States. It runs between Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles, California, passing through Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Amtrak bills the route as one of its most scenic, with views of the Painted Desert and the Red Cliffs of Sedona and the plains of Iowa, Kansas, and Colorado. According to Amtrak, it affords views that are not possible while traveling along interstate highways.
The Southwest Chief is the successor to the Super Chief, inaugurated in 1936 as the flagship train of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. For most of its existence, it was “all-Pullman,” carrying sleeping cars only. The Santa Fe merged the Super Chief with its all-coach counterpart, the El Capitan, in 1958. The merged train was known as the Super Chief/El Capitan but retained the train numbers used by the Super Chief, 17 westbound and 18 eastbound.
Amtrak retained the Super Chief/El Capitan after taking over passenger rail service in 1971. During the summer of 1972, the Chief was complimented by the Chief, reviving the name of another notable Chicago-Los Angeles sleeper operated by the Santa Fe. Amtrak dropped the El Capitan half in 1973. Then in March 1974, Santa Fe forced Amtrak to discontinue using the Chief brand on its former trains because of a perceived decline in quality after the Amtrak takeover. The train was renamed Southwest Limited on March 7. After subsequent improvements, Santa Fe allowed Amtrak to change its name to the Southwest Chief on October 28, 1984.
Unique among all long-distance Superliner trains, the Southwest Chief is permitted to run up to 90 mph (145 km/h) along significant portions of the route because of the automatic train stop installed by the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Given Amtrak’s projected 41-hour travel time, the average speed is more than 55 mph (89 km/h), including stops. Volunteer Rangers with the Trails and Rails program from the National Park Service travel onboard during the spring and summer and provide a narrative between La Junta, Colorado, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Starting in May 2013, Volunteer Rangers with Trails and Rails will also be on board, providing a narrative between Chicago and La Plata, Missouri. From June through August, the Southwest Chief is used by Boy Scouts traveling to and from Philmont Scout Ranch via the Raton station. During those months, Raton station is staffed by Amtrak employees and handles checked baggage. This route was one of five studied for possible performance improvements by Amtrak in FY 2012.