Passenger Rail Coach Car

The most basic type of passenger rail cars is the coach car. This and the baggage car are the two earliest types of passenger rail cars. The design of the coach car was standardized in the 1820’s and 1830’s, and was based on the interior design of stagecoaches from that time period. The seats were initially not very comfortable, while often riding uncomfortable due to riding on only two axles. The interior was very crude, with little more than a roof to protect passengers from the weather.

An example of an early “stagecoach” passenger rail coach.

Later improvements in coach design and construction improved ride quality for passengers. By the mid 19th century, the design for the interior of a passenger rail coach was standardized as an aisle with seats down both sides, with overhead luggage racks, and is still the design used the most today. Some coaches had 2 seats on each side of the aisle (designated as a 2+2 coach), while others had 3 seats on each side (designated as a 3+3 coach). This was called the “Open” design. Passengers boarded these cars through a vestibule at the end of the car. Despite these innovations, many older, more uncomfortable coach cars continued to be used as late as the years leading up to the creation of Amtrak.

This has been the standard design for passenger rail coach interiors since the mid 19th century.

By the 1930’s, many coaches, especially those meant for first class passengers, evolved to include seats that were more comfortable and even swiveled. Around the same time, compartment coaches were developed. These had two sectioned seats facing each other. This design is still used today by Amtrak in their roomette accommodations on their long distance trains.

The interior of the observation car on the Nebraska Zephyr at the Illinois Railway Museum. Many first class coaches had the “swiveling” seats seen here starting in the 1930’s.

The 1930’s to the 1950’s was the “Golden Age” of passenger rail travel, when passenger cars were built regularly by various companies, including Pullman-Standard and Budd Company. For a time after Amtrak was formed, they continued to use this “hand-me-down” rolling stock, until they ordered their present day Superliner and Amfleet equipment.

A modern Superliner railcar operated by Amtrak.

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