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A heavyweight observation on display at the Illinois Railway Museum.
The streamlined Pullman observation-lounge car Coconino, coupled to a heavyweight sleeper painted in two-tone Pullman grey, brings up the rear of the Chief at La Junta, Colorado on February 27, 1938.

An observation car/carriage/coach (in US English, often abbreviated to simply observation) is a type of railroad passenger car, generally operated in a passenger train as the last carriage. The cars were nearly universally removed from service on American railroads in the mid-1950s as a cost-cutting measure in order to eliminate the need to "turn" the trains when operating out of stub-end terminals.



The main spotting feature was at the tail end of the car: the walls of the car usually were curved together to form a large U shape, and larger windows were installed all around the end of the car. On older cars, the rear end of the car consisted of a large, canopied porch-like area. At this end of the car, there was almost always a lounge where passengers could enjoy the view as they watched the track recede into the distance.


When passenger trains were still the preferred mode of intercity transportation in America, observations often were used by those campaigning for public office, especially for the Presidency of the United States. The candidate’s train would pull into town and stop with the observation end at the station, then the candidate would appear on the observation platform to deliver his “stump speech”. The observation platform made a perfect temporary stage for just such an event. Like political candidates, famous personalities such as members of a royal family or film stars would use the open observation car end as a stage from which they would greet well-wishers and fans during public tours.

In more recent years, presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama have used a heavyweight observation car built by the Pullman Standard Company in 1930.[1]

Industrial design

One of the Milwaukee Road’s Skytop Lounge cars brings up the rear of a steam excursion behind Milwaukee Road 261.

While the cars manufactured by companies such as Pullman-Standard conformed to somewhat standard designs, some railroads created their own distinctive designs for observation ends. For example, the Milwaukee Road’s passenger trains were often rounded out with either a “Skytop Lounge” or a finned “Beavertail observation” the latter due to noted industrial designer Otto Kuhler. The Milwaukee's observations were easily recognizable as the observation end of the cars were not only rounded, but also slanted toward the front of the car, often with windows extending up from the normal window height to the roofline.

Six railroads bought dome-observation cars from Budd — the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, and the Western Pacific Railroad for use on their joint California Zephyr, and the Canadian Pacific Railway for The Canadian and The Dominion. The WP touted this combination car type as “the best of both worlds” in passenger amenities. The Wabash used the cars on their "Bluebird", Chicago to St. Louis, and the Chesapeake and Ohio for the "Chessie" which never went into service. The C&O cars were sold to the Denver & Rio Grande and ran on the "Royal Gorge".


  1. ^ Frederick N. Rasmussen (2:37 PM EST, January 16, 2009), "Train car Obama said to be using has long presidential pedigree", Baltimore Sun,  
  • White, John H., Jr. (1978). The American Railroad Passenger Car. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-2743-4 (pbk.: set); ISBN 0-8018-2722-1 (pbk.: vol. 1); ISBN 0-8018-2747-7 (pbk.: vol. 2).  

Budd also built dome-observation cars for the Wabash's "Bluebird" between Chicago and St. Louis and the Chesapeak and Ohio "Chessie" which never went into service. The C&O cars were sold off to the Denver and Rio Grande Western where they served on the "Royal Gorge". RE: "An Illustrated Treasury of Budd railway passenger cars, 1931 to 1981" by James W. Kerr; Delta Publications 1981; pp 88-90; 162-165

See also


Fictional Observation Cars

External links


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