North Coast Limited

From TrainSpottingWorld, for Rail fans everywhere
Northern Pacific train No. 25, the North Coast Limited, pulls out of Billings, Montana circa 1960.
"Drumhead" logos such as these often adorned the ends of observation cars on the North Coast Limited.

The North Coast Limited was a named passenger train operated by the Northern Pacific Railway between Chicago and Seattle via Bismarck, North Dakota. It commenced service on April 29, 1900 served briefly as a Burlington Northern train after the merger on March 2, 1970 and ceased operation the day before Amtrak began service (May 1, 1971). The Chicago Union Station to St. Paul leg of the train's route was operated by the Chicago Burlington and Quincy railroad along its Mississippi River mainline through Wisconsin. The train also had a Portland section which split off the Seattle section at Pasco, Washington and was operated by NP subsidiary Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway between Pasco and Portland.

The Vista-Dome North Coast Limited

During the 1950s Northern Pacific Railway introduced the dome car and renamed their flagship, "The Vista-Dome North Coast Limited." From 1954-1970 this was truly one of the world's finest trains. Everything was streamlined and upgraded. Tables in the dining car were set with fresh flowers and linen table cloths. The luxury train crew included a stewardess who was also registered nurse.

The train operated daily between Chicago and Seattle as train No. 25 westbound and No. 26 eastbound. The scenic route went west across Northern Illinois to the Mississippi River at Savanna, and then more or less followed the Mississippi through La Crosse, Wisconsin, St. Paul, and Minneapolis in Minnesota as far as Little Falls, Minnesota. North Dakota cities served includes Fargo, Bismarck, and Dickinson. Crossing Montana, the train passed through Glendive, Billings, Livingston, Bozeman, Butte, and Missoula. Passing though Sandpoint, Idaho, the train made stops at Spokane, Pasco, Yakima, and East Auburn (a stop for Tacoma) before terminating at the King Street Station in Seattle. The trip from Chicago's Union Station to Seattle was just under two days, taking about 45 hours.


On June 5, 1971, the North Coast Limited service was reinstated by Amtrak as the North Coast Hiawatha. The train was combined with the Amtrak Empire Builder between Chicago and Minneapolis and between Spokane and Seattle (at the time the Empire Builder used the former North Coast Limited route between Spokane and Seattle, via Yakima) and operated three days per week. On November 14, 1971, the North Coast Hiawatha began operating as a separate train from Chicago to Spokane (and daily between Chicago and Minneapolis on former Milwaukee Road trackage). It still combined with the Empire Builder between Spokane and Seattle. On June 11, 1973, the North Coast Hiawatha began operating as a separate train (still tri-weekly, except during some summer and holiday periods) all the way from Chicago to Seattle; the segment between Spokane and Seattle used was the former Empire Builder route via Cascade Tunnel.

The North Coast Limited was the Northern Pacific's flagship train and the Northern Pacific itself was built along the trail first blazed by Lewis and Clark.

Much of the route today is not served by Amtrak, through Amtrak's Empire Builder does run on much of the same trackage in its St. Paul-Fargo and Sandpoint-Pasco segements. The lone remaining Chicago to Seattle/Portland passenger train today is Amtrak's Empire Builder which traverses much of the former Great Northern route west of St. Paul, Minnesota via Grand Forks and Minot, ND; Havre, Whitefish, and Glacier National Park in Montana; and Wenatchee and Everett in Washington State.


  • Dining Car Line to the Pacific by William A. McKenzie, published by Minnesota Historical Society Press 1990.
  • The Vista-Dome North Coast Limited by William R. Kuebler, Jr., published by Oso Publishing Company Inc., 2004