The Superliner is a type of bilevel intercity railroad passenger car used by Amtrak, the national rail passenger carrier in the United States. Amtrak ordered the cars to replace older single-level cars on its long-distance trains in the Western United States. The design was based on the Budd Hi-Level vehicles, employed by the Santa Fe Railway on its El Capitan trains. Pullman-Standard built 284 cars, known as Superliner I, from 1975 to 1981; Bombardier Transportation built 195, known as Superliner II, from 1991 to 1996. The Superliner I cars were the last passenger cars built by Pullman.
Car types include coaches, dining cars, lounges, and sleeping cars. Most passenger spaces are on the upper level, which features a row of windows on both sides. The Sightseer Lounge observation cars have distinctive floor-to-ceiling windows on the upper level. Boarding is on the lower level; passengers climb up a center stairwell to reach the upper level.
The first Superliner I cars entered service in February 1979, with deliveries continuing through 1981. Amtrak assigned the cars to both long-distance and short-distance trains in the Western United States. The first permanent assignment, in October 1979, was to the Chicago–Seattle Empire Builder. Superliner II deliveries began in 1993; the additional cars enabled the retirement of the aging Hi-Level cars and the assignment of Superliners to trains in the Eastern United States. Tunnel clearances prevent their use on the Northeast Corridor.
On May 1, 1971, Amtrak assumed control of almost all private-sector intercity passenger rail service in the United States, with a mandate to reverse decades of decline. It retained about 184 of the 440 trains which had run the day before. To operate these trains, Amtrak inherited a fleet of 300 locomotives and 1,190 passenger cars, most of which dated from the 1940s and 1950s. No new sleeping cars had been built for service in the United States since 1955.
Conventional single-level cars made up most of Amtrak’s inherited fleet, but it also included 73 Hi-Level cars from the Santa Fe. The Budd Company built these between 1954 and 1964; the bi-level design, with its superior views and smooth riding characteristics, was well-suited to the long distances in the west. Michael R. Weinman, who worked at the design firm Louis T. Klauder & Associates, recalled that when Amtrak issued a request for proposal (RFP) in 1973 for a “totally new” passenger car, it “was assumed” that the design would be bi-level. Thirteen companies responded to the RFP; Amtrak selected the Klauder proposal. The design was finished by mid-1974 and Amtrak invited four companies to bid on its construction: Boeing, Budd, Pullman-Standard, and Rohr. Pullman-Standard won the contract.