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Amtrak revives Northeast Corridor sleeping cars

By Bob Johnston | March 9, 2021

Viewliner II cars running on 'Silver Meteor' and 'Silver Star' made addition possible

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Attendant on platform outside train at night in snow
Attendant on platform outside train at night in snow
With early morning snow falling, attendant Richard Sager has let off a ‘Night Owl’ passenger at BWI Rail Station on Feb. 8, 1997. The heritage sleeper would give way to a Viewliner later in the year. Bob Johnston

WASHINGTON — Passengers opting to take the train between Boston and Washington, D.C., will have a long-overdue alternative to the 7-hour daytime journey aboard Acela, Amtrak’s fastest train.

Overnight northbound train No. 66 and southbound No. 67 (No. 65 on Friday and Saturday nights) are scheduled at 9 to 10 hours depending on the direction and day of the week, but beginning April 5, they will each feature a Viewliner sleeper [see “Digest: Amtrak adding sleeping-car service on Northeast Corridor,” Trains News Wire, March 8, 2021].
Boarding customers will get a complimentary continental breakfast box in the evening and may either go to the train’s cafe car for coffee and juice in the morning or have the car’s attendant deliver it. As is the case for Amtrak sleeping car patrons elsewhere, they are also entitled to one free alcoholic beverage.

Although travelers may use the first-class lounges at Boston and Washington before and after the trip, the Philadelphia lounge will be unavailable and New York passengers will need to board through New York’s Penn Station, since the Moynihan Train Hall and its Metropolitan Lounge are closed overnight.

Northeast Corridor night trains did have sleeping cars for most of their Amtrak existence. This continued service once provided by New Haven’s Owl out of New York’s Grand Central Terminal to Boston and the Washington-Boston Federal, a joint New Haven-Pennsylvania Railroad operation, which carried a “cut-off” Philadelphia-Boston sleeper into the late 1960s.

Passenger car in station at night
For many years Amtrak offered the Executive Sleeper, a Washington-New York car that was dropped northbound or added southbound at Penn Station. On Dec. 9, 1991, passengers could board the 10-roomette, 6-double-bedroom heritage sleeping car ‘Beatrice McDonald’ anytime after 9:30 p.m. It would be coupled to the ‘Night Owl,’ which departed New York at 3:45 a.m. Bob Johnston

Amtrak’s version was called the Night Owl, which for a time also featured a New York-Washington “Executive Sleeper” that was dropped off or picked up at New York’s Penn Station. Though the ride was short, it allowed passengers to avoid the cost of a Manhattan hotel room. The cut-off car was dropped with the phase-out of heritage sleepers, whose direct-dump toilet systems were never modified with holding tanks.

In 1997, the overnighter was extended south to Newport News, Va., and re-equipped with the last-arriving Viewliner sleeping cars and simultaneously rebranded as the Twilight Shoreliner. Tray meal service was also introduced at the time. But the Viewliners were taken off in 2003 after the Cardinal’s Superliners were redirected to Auto Train following an equipment-damaging accident the previous year.

The Viewliner shortage has finally been rectified, though the sleeping cars won’t operate south of Washington. Amtrak’s Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer Roger Harris tells Trains News Wire that the company has recently introduced Viewliner II cars on each departure of New York-Miami Silver Star and Silver Meteor.

“The sleepers are maintained at Miami’s Hialeah Maintenance Facility. They are running well, but while they’re still in their infancy, we’re making sure they go home on every run. Right now there is at least one car on every train and soon two of the three sleeping cars will be Viewliner IIs,” says Harris.

Original Viewliners will ply the Boston-Washington overnight route once that service begins on April 5. With the Viewliner IIs finally making their debut on the Meteor and Star, Harris confirms there will be enough equipment to add sufficient capacity once long-distance trains begin running daily, which he says will begin later this spring.

22 thoughts on “Amtrak revives Northeast Corridor sleeping cars

    1. In fairness, I used the “Executive Sleeper” service from New York to Washington many times in the 1980’s. As I recall we got a pre-packed breakfast tray back then. While I am a big critic of what Amtrak has done to food service on its trains, this one is not a downgrade from previous Amtrak offerings.

  1. I’m happy to see this effort and hope it is successful. My only negative is that if I were on the Meteor or the Star for 24 hours plus, I’d appreciate the toilet in my Viewliner 1 roomette, not down the hall as in a Viewliner II. The latter would be more agreeable on the shorter WAS-BOS route, so I’d switch the assignments, unless the V-1’s are looking really ratty by now.

    1. I agree with Mr. Pins, I’m up 3 or 4 times a night and trekking down the hall is a pain for me probably distracting to othe patrons. Dont know how I got old so fast.

    2. All those toilets made Viewliner 1 cars expensive to operate and maintain. They were always breaking down and leaving a foul odor all over the sleeper. Couples riding in roomettes did not want a toilet which often required one passengers to step outside while companion sat on the toilet.

  2. Since both these trains originate or terminate at Newport News, VA…..hopefully they will be able to keep the sleeper car on the trains in Virginia in the near future.

  3. Yay. Finally some all-around good news! This should be fun. I HOPE it will be advertised and PROMOTED properly.

  4. I rode it from Boston To Washington in 1999. During a strange lengthy stop at Newark, the Amtrak employees at Newark blasted loud rap music on loudspeakers the whole time. I never rode it again.
    Dan Sabin

  5. The two prototype Viewliner cars held the WAS-NYP line in later days because they DID have retention tanks. These were the last cars built by Budd.

    Before Superliners and Viewliners, crews had to set “honey buckets” under the downspout from each occupied room. That was not a pleasant job. This was true for any occupied set out car.

  6. I got a treat of going by sleeper on the Twilight Shoreliner or Night Owl (or whatever the train name was in the early 2000s).

    It continues to amaze me that Amtrak hasn’t been aggressively getting more sleeper cars on more trains over the years. There is revenue sitting on the table from people willing to pay a little extra for the privacy and a place to lay flat. I suspect that there is a market for sleeping cars even on very long day trains (Vermonter; Palmetto), for the same reason that people will purchase sleeper accommodations for day travel on the western long distance trains.

    And while I never used it, bringing back the “executive sleeper”, wherein a sleeping car traveling a short distance was dropped/picked up in NYP, but open for riders for the full night, is an excellent idea, and one that could probably be replicated elsewhere in the country.

    1. People are willing to pay a little extra for the privacy and a place to lay flat. What they are not willing to pay is the fully allocated cost of the service. I can argue that the taxpayers should underwrite the cost of coach trains in corridors where the cost to expand the airways and highways is prohibitive. But it escapes me why they should subsidize sleeping car patrons.

  7. Fares of $288 for the new sleeper service between Washington and Boston have been quoted in the popular press. What has not been quoted is the percentage of the cost the fares cover. Several studies have shown that the subsidy required by sleeping car passengers is noticeably greater than the subsidy for coach passengers. So, unless the price/cost dynamics has changed significantly, the taxpayers will be underwriting the cost of the sleeper service between Washington and Boston or the in between stations.

    1. That’s IF we can fully trust NRPC’s fully-allocated cost accounting, which is highly suspect. Either way, some good things that make life livable need to return, and the night (and set-out) sleepers are one of them. Plated dining cars meals are a second.

      1. Isn’t judging “fully allocated” costs a bit over-the-top given the COVID-fueled collapse of heavy, light, and subway ridership? Unless the bean counters are using a thus far unmentioned counter-balance similar to the familiar “seasonally adjusted,” whatever numbers they spit out will be way out-of-line.

  8. This is some extremely welcome news. Amtrak should consider reviving the Executive Sleeper as well. This kind of train needs to be implemented all over North America, I’ve wondering if they might possibly bring back the Night Owl name or perhaps some other name but now I figure they’ll just leave it as is.

  9. OMG !!! An actual upgrade in service? Hallelujah!!! Now can we get some real food on a train other than the Auto Train?

  10. “But the Viewliners were taken off in 2003 after the Cardinal’s Superliners were redirected to Auto Train following an equipment-damaging accident the previous year.”

    I never knew The Cardinal EVER had Superliners. As it operates Chicago to New York, along the NEC north of Washington, I thought the Superliners would not fit through NEC tunnels. ??

    1. At the time the Cardinal only ran between Chicago and Washington. Once the single level cars were used the train continued to New York.

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