Sunday, February 17, 2008

Transcontinental train trip in 1923; also 1905

From: "Charter Mail"

In 1923 what train would an Ellis Island passenger use to get from the Island, New York to Sacramento, California? What would it cost? How long would the train trip be from New York to Sacramento in days? Would they use open train cars? How can I find out more about this train and trip?



Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See The Official Guide of the Railways, 1921.

2/17/2008 9:35 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"

By 1923 transcontinental passenger service was at its near-peak in terms of the number of trains and the qualities of service available to the public.

Much of your answers are compicated and depend on the would be emigre's financial means and ethnic or national origins. While we assume most emigrants arriving in New York would be typically lower middle class, in the 1920s there were fewer very poor emigrants. Still, they may well have used a substantial portion of their means to pay the trans-Atlantic steamship fare.

I would expect an average European emigrant to be somewhat frugal, and seek out the cheapest possible railroad fare(s). By 1923 two railroads with direct connections to the eastern seaboard served Sacramento - the Southern Pacific Company (successor to the Central Pacific of the 19th century) and the newer Western Pacific Railroad.

The WP was a very modest and much smaller railroad - connecting San Francisco-Oakland with Salt Lake City, Utah - at which point it met the Denver & Rio Grande Western (Salt Lake City to Denver, CO). The D&RGW then forwarded its passengers at Denver to and from the east to either the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (to Chicago) or the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (also to Chicago) or the Union Pacific (to Omaha, with connections to Chicago). The natural and usual passenger route was the CB&Q-D&RGW-WP.

Nevertheless, Southern Pacific's direct tie with the Union Pacific mainline at Ogden, UT allowed someone travelling from New York and Chicago (Chicago was the most MidWest common change-of-trains point) to reach California most efficiently. The passenger could also reach the west coast through St.Louis (avoiding Chicago) from New York, but that was slower and more indirect. There were regular, daily St. Louis-Denver passenger trains.

Your hypothetical passenger could travel "second class" – meaning, by day-coach – all the way, with no sleeping accomodations and thus travel most cheaply. Or, if they had more funds for some extra comforts, would pay the standard coach fares (set by each railroad involved) and add on a First Class fare paid to the Pullman Company for sleeping car service. Some modest income passengers might travel from New York to Chicago by coach, then upgrade to Pullman accomodations at Chicago for the long two day journey to California. A total trip time from New York to Sacramento, depending on what trains and railroads were used, could take anywhere from 4 to 5 days allowing for some layovers where changing trains was required (typically Chicago or St.Louis). Changing trains wasn't always required – especially for the wealthy traveling by Pullman sleeping car – but was very, very common for both coach and sleeping car passengers.

Fares varied and were seasonal then, as now. There's no easy answer to that qurestion. One of the best ways for the general public to get a basic idea of fares is to consult historic newspapers on microfilm at a major library, paying close attention to railroad advertisments. Some railroads and the Pullman Company offered seasonal "Tourist" fares well aimed at bargain-concious travelers. Pullman's tourist sleepers were simpler – with berths much like the higher priced Pullman sleepers, but the seat upholstery was usually rattan rather than mohair plush; Tourist sleeper passengers might also have been required to bring their own linens and pillows, and provide their own food (or grab meals at longer station stops at depot lunch counters). A first class Pullman passenger would have these things provided and have access the railroad-operated dining cars.

You would do very well to contact the very well equipped California State Railroad Museum Library in Sacramento. CSRML – a public reference library (non-lending) maintains a treasure trove of historic railroad "public timetables" and the very helpful Official Guide of the Railways & Steamship Lines. Official Guides – inches thick and published quarterly – were kept in just about every railroad depot, small and large in the US so that any station agent could sell any prospective passenger long or short distance train tickets and, if needed, Pullman tickets. The Official Guides had basic route maps and passenger timetables for the major railroads, and timetables for a host of smaller railroads that provided connecting services to towns and villages off of main lines. You'll have to do your own research, but the CSRML staff can easily walk you through the basics, and in some cases provides photocopies of some of its collections for a small fee.

Open cars were extreme rarities by the 1920s. Day coaches would still have had windows that opened, but in the 1920s, railroads and the Pullman Company were investing in a better class of cars (coaches, lounge cars, dining cars and sleepers) that featured ice-chilled air conditioning for summer travel; steam heat was the norm for all kinds of transcontinental day coaches and sleeping cars in cooler months or for night time warmth. About the only "open-air" cars one ever saw in the 1920s were the very few summers only scenic viewing cars operated in summer only by the Canadian Pacific across its route through the Canadian Rockies and similar cars used by Northern Pacific Railway on its branch line into Yellowstone National Park. Southern Pacific Company also operated a few open air cars in summer but only on its line across the Cascade mountains in Oregon, and again only on select trains. You should pretty well rule out open cars.

One more thing, Southern Pacific's Sacramento depot was at 4th & I Streets and was brand new (the one still used by Amtrak) and had – then – a small park and lawn out front where a freeway onramp and parking lot now are. Western Pacific's much smaller passenger depot – still standing, but now in use as a restaurant and bar – was between 19th and 20th and J & K streets. The Southern Pacific operated across Donner Pass (today's Amtrak route to and from Chicago) where the WP crossed the Sierra Nevada at much lower altitude via the Feather River Canyon. Both the SP and WP lines operated in close proximity across north-central Nevada to Utah.

—Kevin Bunker, Portland OR

2/17/2008 11:45 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "BarbRob"

We wish to know about Rail travel from New York City to San Francisco in the fall of 1905:

Name of Train(s)?

How long was the trip?

Was a Luxury sleeping car available?

2/25/2008 2:08 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See The Official Guide of the Railways, 1910.

2/25/2008 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also see, Transcontinental Travel Times in 1869.

5/10/2011 4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Theodore Hazen"

How long would it take the average person if they got on a passenger train in New York City to arrive in San Francisco in the year 1894? How many days and hours would it take to travel across that continent during that time period? ...

—Ted Hazen

12/27/2011 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Misti Veikune"

... I am currently working on a book project. I was wondering if you could tell me how long it would have taken a passenger to get from Philadelphia, PA to San Francisco, CA in 1887? ...

—Misti Veikune

2/19/2012 9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Misti Veikune"

Thank you so much. This info helped immensely!

2/20/2012 8:42 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Jennifer Monroe"

I was looking online for an answer to a question I had about railroad travel in 1887 and came across your website. I'm wondering if someone in Iowa wanted to travel to New York City on a train during this time, how long would their journey take? I realize your website contains a lot of information about traveling in the opposite direction but an educated guess or a recommendation for another website would be greatly appreciated. ...


3/12/2012 6:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would take less than a week from Iowa to New York City in 1887.

3/12/2012 6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Ross Sanchez"

What was the average train fare rate in 1960, from city to city or cross-country?

—Ross Sanchez Jr.

4/02/2012 5:02 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Thelma Rhodes"

In 1898 or 1900, how many hours (days) did it take, by train, to go from Denver,
CO, to San Francisco, CA, and how many stops before reaching SF?

—Audrey M. Rhodes

4/21/2012 10:19 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Tony Biglan"

How long did it take by train to get from New York to San Francisco in 1900?

Anthony Biglan, Ph.D., Eugene, OR

1/20/2014 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Likely 4-5 days. Less than a week, depending on fare class chosen.

1/20/2014 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Jana Bradley"
Subject: What train offered the cheapest way to get from Chicago to Berkeley California in 1921?

I am a novelist and my heroine needs to travel by herself from Chicago (actually Normal, Illinois) to Berkeley California by the cheapest train option. In addition to the train name and route, I am also interested in details of the trainride itself and services at Stations like Berkeley. For example, on arrival could one store luggage for a short period of time. Were there station personnel to ask questions of, as for example, how do I get to the University of California?

I have done quite a bit of Internet searching and can find information on extra fare trains but so far nothing on cheaper journeys. ...

—Jana Bradley, Retired Professor, University of Arizona, Tucson

11/03/2014 3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Denny Dickinson"

There was a railyard in Truckee, Ca. All trains stopped in Truckee for water and to hook up a helper engine to climb to the summit. There is a very good chance that your heroine would have disembarked to have dinner at the Truckee Hotel. Please contact the Truckee Donner Historical Society for more information about what she might have done if she got off the train in Truckee. Of course the year and the time of year would be an important consideration in the story.

The cooks and servers for that meal would have been Chinamen (proper wording in 1860-70's) depending on the year. The Chinese were ran out of town later on. Read up on the Truckee Method before writing the story.

—Denny Dickinson

11/04/2014 8:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Subject: Re: What train offered the cheapest way to get from Chicago to Berkeley California in 1921?

... One wonderful description, for 1879 is Across the Plains by Robert Louis Stevenson ... He traveled by immigrant train, the cheapest option from New York to California.

Once in Berkeley, your lady could either get off at Berkeley or Oakland. There were horse drawn street cars from Oakland to Cal by the early 1870's. They were found in Berkeley a bit later. Steam powered commuter trains were found a bit later ... still later electric street cars.

There would have been station staff around, some helpful, some less so ... luggage service and porters were available but had a price associated with it.

The Berkeley SP station was near the bay, a couple of miles away, but the station for the SP local steam trains was at Shadock and University, a couple of blocks from the campus. The Oakland railroad horse car (horse powered in Oakland, steam powered once beyond Temescal creek ... ) went up Telegraph to campus (before 1876 they had a special horse car for professors).

—Randy Hees

11/04/2014 8:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Jana Bradley"

Thank you for your help and for the links.


11/04/2014 12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Stephen Harris"
Date: November 4, 2014 5:09:17 PM EST

Jana, glad to learn of your interest in Truckee history. The cheapest train option would be 'hobo' class; but barring that, it would have been roughly the same for any train, if lowest class tickets were purchased. I don't have exact fares handy. There are some excellent accounts by famous persons of the earliest rail excursions across country, but the details and amenities would have changed by 1921 – you would have to search the literature for a contemporaneous account.

The train station at Berkeley is a stately old building, which should have been in operation in the 1920's. It subsequently became a first-class restaurant, but the passenger trains still stop there– I disembarked myself on site some years ago. The station is located at the base of University Avenue, right around 4th St. I believe, a few blocks from the Bay. To get to the University, you simply travel (guess) straight up University Avenue until you run right into the campus. The spire of the famous Sather ("say there") Tower gleams prominently from the center of campus, visible during the entire two-mile ride from the Bay. I would bet that there would have been baggage storage there in the old days, and probably at the Truckee station as well. Chinamen may well have continued as cooks on the trains into the 1920's; there was a famous Chinaman, Fong Quong, who prepared meals for work crews on Donner Summit all the way into the 1960's!

—Stephen Harris, Truckee-Donner Historical Society

P.S., You might try writing up a brief non-fiction historical monograph, surveying background and timeline, as an adjunct to your fiction writing – we at TDHS would certainly be interested in seeing both works.

11/04/2014 4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Lisa K. Neuberger"

How long would it have taken for someone to travel by train from Boston to Denver in 1862?

—Lisa Neuberger

11/10/2014 1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boston to Denver by which 1862 railroad(s)??? The Kansas Pacific Railway was not completed until 1870.

Don't know where to find 1860's stagecoach schedules.

Appleton's Railway and Steam Navigation Guide was being published in 1862 and might be found at a research library. This should provide schedules for the portions of the route that could be travelled by rail in 1862.


Rail Guides

transcontinental travel times


Kansas Pacific Railroad

11/10/2014 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Lisa K. Neuberger"

Thank you so much for your quick reply and valuable information. I am writing a book, and one of my characters needs to get from Boston to Denver. :)

11/11/2014 4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Richard Ruddy"

I need to know how many hours it took to travel by train from Vermont to Albuquerque in 1905.

12/16/2014 12:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Atala Moore"

How long would it take to take a train from New York City to Oklahoma City, OK in 1920?

—Atala Moore

12/18/2014 10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "LA"
Subject: Buffalo-Oakland, 1920s

I'm a member of a library reference team and a patron is looking for information on routes his mother might have taken between Buffalo, NY & Oakland, CA in the 1920s. He'd like maps as well as description of the options that would have been available to her. I'm aware that these options varied considerably between the early 1920s & later in the decade; he's not certain when the travel might have taken place, & so is interested in both.

I've already found several entries in this blog that are of great use; just hoping that someone here has handled this very question & so can help expedite research.

Thanks for all you've already posted here, & for anything you can add.

Leslie Auerbach
Reference Services,
Santa Cruz Public Libraries

4/26/2015 12:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Susan Welsh"
Subject: Another Ellis Island Question ...

I was going through your site and saw [the first question above] ...

I have a very similar question. My grandmother left Ellis Island in 1915 and came to Los Angeles by Rail. My famly has a telegram which stated that she was taking the Lehigh Valley Topeka Sta Fe railroad. What would this route consist of? Was this all one railroad? And of course, what would the least expensive ticket have run! She had $50 total when she arrived in this country from Argentina. ...

—Susan Welsh, Murrieta, CA

(I love trains and wish we had more passenger lines. I traveled all through Europe on them and think they can't be beat for comfort and enjoying a trip! Alas. I live in California, home of the automobile culture.)

8/14/2015 8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI Gang!

How long (and by what method and route) would it have taken to ship an item from San Francisco, CA to Philadelphia, Pa in March, 1876. This would have been several months before the completion (and first run) of the transcontinental railroad in June, 1876.

What would have been the fastest and most direct route?



10/30/2016 1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The premise of your question is incorrect because the first transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869.

For information about routes, see the Official Guide of the Railways for 1877.

10/30/2016 11:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Gang!

How long (and by what method and route) would it have taken to ship an item from San Francisco, CA to Philadelphia, Pa in March, 1876.

What would have been the fastest and most direct route?



10/31/2016 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About a week via rail on the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads.

10/31/2016 11:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See rail shipping documentation examples,

Transcontinental Waybills, 1877

CPRR Waybill, 1878

CPRR Shipping Receipt, 1880

10/31/2016 11:37 PM  
Blogger Kellie Michelle Parker said...

Hi all,

I'm a writer looking for firsthand accounts of train travel between 1900-1905. Also wondering where to find a US map of available routes for that period. I'm trying to get an upper-class character from NYC to Victor, ID. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

- Kellie, Grand Rapids, MI

11/02/2016 11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The firsthand accounts available at the CPRR Museum are mostly from the 19th century.

Railroad Maps

Overland Route Map, 1908

Also see, the Official Rail Guide, 1910 for detailed information.

11/02/2016 5:51 PM  
Blogger Kellie Michelle Parker said...

Thank you!

11/03/2016 10:14 AM  
Blogger rtrg said...

just curious. when was the last time the first transcontinental railroad provided passenger service along its original route? long before AMTRAKS service provided now? how much of the original route changed and where?

12/08/2017 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was no "last time," because, with some improvements, the original first transcontinental rail route is still in daily use today.

12/09/2017 6:24 PM  
Blogger Priscilla King said...

Could anyone provide some route and time details for frugal middle-class characters going from D.C. to San Antonio circa 1880-1881?

6/13/2018 7:46 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Is this forum still active? I'm trying to decide on the bones of my book and I know it's in 1905 and will involve train travel between Santa Fe (prefer Flagstaff if a station existed?) and San Francisco. First class on the way there; cheapest on the way back. What I'm wondering is: (1)How long, total and between layovers? (2)What railway(s)? And (3)What general or specific path would be traveled. Anything at all is helpful :)

7/14/2018 11:28 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Does anyone know any specifics about if there was a train that would have gone from Vancouver, BC to Seattle during the mid-1920s?

8/15/2018 9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, see the Official Rail Guide, 1910. It's the best source for information about train trips in the past.

9/06/2018 1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Sarah Coston"

I am looking at the CPRR Discussion Group and there is a question concerning how someone would get from Ellis Island/NYC to Sacramento by train in 1923. Would your answer also apply to someone who would have come through Ellis Island in 1910 and wanted to get to Sacramento by train at that time or in 1911? My father was in Richmond, CA, during the 1920 Census so he would have come sometime after 1910 but before the 1920 census. I am trying to find how my father would have gotten to Northern California during that time frame.

—Sarah Coston, San Mateo, CA

2/25/2019 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, see the Official Rail Guide, 1910 for details.

2/25/2019 4:19 PM  
Blogger Madge Walls said...

I am a novelist, looking for information on train route and schedule from Philadelphia to Portland, OR, in 1923. Specifically, did the route go north to Seattle and then south to Portland, or would it have diverted at some point and gone down the Columbia River Gorge to Portland? Thanks!

4/29/2020 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See The Official Guide of the Railways, 1921.

4/29/2020 1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Kathleen Donnelly"
Subject: Question about train travel in 1920

My blog is about what was happening 100 years ago, in 1920 [].

One character I focus on, New York lawyer and art collector John Quinn, traveled with his extended family from Boston to New York City, on or about September 11th through 13th, 1920.

Do you know what Boston station he would have left from? Any other details would be helpful.

Thank you!

—Kathleen Dixon Donnelly

6/08/2020 5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "nwprr"
Subject: Re: Question about train travel in 1920

No idea.

Suggest you post your question on :

Charlie Siebenthal

6/09/2020 10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Ray Vento"

I’m writing about my family who settled first in Philadelphia, then in 1922 moved to Los Angeles. How would they likely have traveled (route, train line) by train from East to West coast in 1922? Would the fare be different for parent and child? What train stations would they likely leave from and arrive at? Would the trip across country require any transfers from one train line to another, or be direct? Finally, what would have been the estimated length of time for their trip from Philadelphia to Los Angeles? ...

7/06/2020 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could take the Pennsylvania Railroad from Philadelphia to Chicago and then the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway from Chicago to Los Angeles.

7/06/2020 12:45 PM  
Anonymous Mei Mei said...

Greetings to all. I am a retired media executive researching my family history from China to America for a book. My great-grandfather appears to have traveled on the Canadian Pacific Railroad several times between 1920-1940 as he went from Baltimore to Hong Kong.

He probably would have departed from New York to Vancouver where he boarded the Empress of Japan in 1936. In 1920, 1921 and 1939, he boarded the Princess Charlotte, Princess Alice and Princess Marguerite at Vancouver, presumably to and from Seattle.

My questions:
*Does anyone you have an idea of what it would have cost for a trip across country in 1920, 1936 or 1940? Imagine he would have paid the cheapest fare as an immigrant.
*How long would the train have taken from New York to Vancouver, typically?
*Was there a "package deal" that would have included the Princesses or the Empresses to Hong Kong?

Thank you in advance for any assistance! Stay safe.

10/02/2020 1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, this CPRR website is NOT about the Canadian Pacific Railway! Click here for further information.

10/02/2020 6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Clari Dees"
Subject: Denver to Tucson in the 1890's

I ran across your website while trying to find information on rail travel in the 1890's. You have a fantastic site, but I haven't found an answer for my specific question, yet.

Maybe I'm not looking in the right place, though.

According to an 1893 Rand McNally railroad map on the Library of Congress's website, I have found that, although they belonged to different RR companies, rail lines connected Denver, CO, and Tucson, AZ.

Would someone be able to help me figure out how long a railroad trip from Denver to Tucson might have taken in the 1890's?

Or point me in the right direction to find that information? ...

—Clari Dees

10/15/2020 7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some places to look:

"The Official Guide of Railways" for 1910.

"The Official Guide of Railways" for 1891 or 1895 may be available from Taplines on CD or DVD.

10/15/2020 7:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also see,

Railroad Timetables at

Amtrak Timetable Museum (1971-2009)

Courtesy of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society Internet Message List

6/05/2021 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See related.

8/15/2021 12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: King, Carie ""

My students are researching and writing about Earl Leland Smith, who ... “flew the first transcontinental rail-air trip." We have been unable to find other resources about this record-setting pilot. Do you have any information about him? ...

Professor Carie S. Tucker King, PhD
University of Texas, Dallas

3/21/2024 1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"On June 14, 1929, Smith piloted the first rail-air combination [railroad + airplane] flight from coast to coast. His flight took him over the Appalachian Mountains, a feat which was largely seen as unsafe at the time."

3/21/2024 1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Earl L. Smith kept a voluminous record of his career [as an airplane pilot] in scrap books ... presented to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C."
Fort Myers (FL) News-Press, June 15, 1969

Courtesy of Bruce C. Cooper

3/21/2024 4:47 PM  

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