VistaDome Views Home

What is a Vista Dome?

The Vista-Dome is a deluxe coach with a glass compartment rising out of the roof. This railroad passenger car has a second floor with 24 or 30 seats, lots of windows and no obstructions. The front and rear walls of the dome are windows. The entire side of the dome is made of windows. Curved glass is used to transition from the side to the roofing on vista-domes. All of this glass allows passengers to view the all the great and vast scenery. At night only the only lights used are to illuminate the floor allowing passengers to look up and watch for falling stars. A Vista-Dome has only one set of stairs up and down. It is not the place to hide from a ticket collecting conductor.

The Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad, the Burlington Railroad, introduced the Vista-Dome passenger car into regular service in 1947 on it's Twin Zephyr train. It was part of the standard equipment of the California Zephyr train when that train started running on March 20, 1949. The Twin Cities Zephyr train included 5 Vista-Dome cars. Standard height dome cars, 24 inches over the roofline were not suitable for service on most eastern railroads because of clearance problems. Budd built domes with a 19 1/2 inch dome top for eastern service. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was the only pre-Amtrak east coast railroad that had Vista-Domes in revenue service. The domes were a part of the Columbian and Capitol trains.

look up... look down... look all around!

The Vista-Dome car was conceived by Cyrus Osborn, a General Motors vice president, in 1944 as he rode in the diesel locomotive of a freight train in the Glenwood Canyon. Overtaken with the views that were not obscured by the walls of a passenger car, he contemplated a method to provide passengers with the same breathtaking views he was experiencing and started sketching a way to provide train passengers a means of viewing the scenery. The president of the Burlington Railroad saw the early sketches done by Mr Osborn and converted one of the railroad's passenger cars into a dome car. This prototype car was named Silver Dome and was put into service in 1945. It was such a hit that before the end of that year the Burlington placed orders for 40 dome cars to be built. The Budd Company was the first company to deliver dome cars to the Burlington in 1947. The Burlington coined the name Vista-Dome for it's line of dome cars. Other railroads were soon running with dome cars built by the Budd Company, Pullman-Standard, and American Car & Foundry. For more information about the California Zephyr train visit the California Zephyr Virtual Museum. The operators of the California Zephyr used the Vista-Dome as a powerful marketing tool issuing advertisements and brochures featuring the Vista-Dome. I've found some of the ads and other marketing literature used by the Burlington and other railroads in the United States and Canada and present them here.

CB&Q, the Burlington, coined and used the name Vista Dome. Missouri Pacific used the name Planetarium Dome. Santa Fe used the name Pleasure Dome. On CPR's, now Via, The Canadian train the dome cars are named Skyline cars.

I've ridden in dome cars on my trip across Canada on VIA Rails The Canadian in 2002 and on my 2004 Alaska Rail journey on the Alaska Railroad Denali Star .

For your viewing pleasure I present photographs I've assembled of Vista Dome cars. I photographed the vista dome, Native Son, at the station in Fullerton, California in 1992 or 1993. In 2001 it was sold and became the Bella Vista, available for private charter. There's a photo of the Silver Lariat when it was in regular service and a couple of photos I took of it at Los Angeles Union Station in 1993.

Photos of VistaDome cars

Native Son in Fullerton CA
Native Son
Native Son in Fullerton CA
Native Son
Native Son in Fullerton CA
Native Son
Union Pacific Vista Dome 9005
Union Pacific 9005
Union Pacific Vista Dome Harriman
Union Pacific "Harriman"
Union Pacific Vista Dome 9009
Union Pacific 9009
Union Pacfic Vista Dome 103
UP Vista-Dome 103
3 Union Pacific Vista Domes
Union Pacific Vista Domes
UP 7011 vista dome
Union Pacific 7011
UP train with 3 vista domes
3 Union Pacific domes, 1 is the City of SF
Union Pacific dome City of San Francisco
City of Sanfrancisco on the end of the UP City of Los Angeles train
Union Pacific vista-dome 9004
Union Pacific 9004
Union Pacific Vista-dome 7010
Union Pacific 7010
Union Pacific Vista-dome 7013
Union Pacific 7013
Union Pacific vista-dome 9003
Union Pacific 9003
A VIA dome in Toronto
VIA Rail Skyline
A dome on Via's Canadian
VIA Rail Kootenay Park
A dome on Via's Canadian
VIA Rail Skyline
Burlington Silver Dome
Burlington Silver Dome, orginal Vista Dome
BN Silver Brand
Burlington Silver Brand
BN Silver Bridle
Burlington Silver Bridle
Silver Bronco Chair car vista dome
Denver and Rio Grande Western Silver Bronco
Burlington Northern Silver Castle
Burlington Silver Castle
California Zephyr Silver Chalet
Western Pacific Silver Chalet
Silver Chateau Parlor buffet car
Burlington Silver Chateau
Silver Cup
Burlington Silver Cup
California Zephyr Silver Horizon observation car
Burlington Silver Horizon
Silver Kettle dormitory buffet lounge car
Burlington Silver Kettle
Silver Lariat chair car
Burlington Silver Lariat
Silver Lariat at LAX
Silver Lariat at LA Union Station in 1993
Close up photo of Silver Lariat at LAX
Silver Lariat at LA Union Station in 1993
California Zephyr Silver Mountain
Western Pacific Silver Mountain
Silver Mustang Chair car vista dome
Rio Grande Silver Mustang
California Zephyr Silver Planet
Western Pacific Silver Planet
California Zephyr Silver Pony chair car
Rio Grande Silver Pony
Silver Ranch
Burlington Silver Ranch
Silver Saddle chair car
Burlington Silver Saddle
Silver Saddle chair car
Burlington Silver Saddle
CBQ Silver Saddle
Burlington Silver Saddle
Burlington Northern Sliver Scene
Burlington Silver Scene
Silver Shop Dormitory Buffet Lounge
Rio Grande Silver Shop
Silver Sky Buffet Lounge Observation
Rio Grande Silver Sky
Silver Sky
Rio Grande Silver Sky
CBQ Silver Terrace
Burlington Silver Terrace Parlor Dome
Silver View Lounge Observation
Burlington Silver View
California Zephyr Silver Schooner postcard
Silver Schooner postcard
CBQ Silver Wave
Burlington Silver Wave
Silver Solarium on display
Burlington Silver Solarium
Twin Cities Zephyr train with vista domes
Twin Cities Zephyr train with 5 Vista-Domes
Santa Fe dome 501
Santa Fe 501
Santa Fe vista-dome in San Diego
Santa Fe vista-dome in San Diego
Northern Pacific dome 553
Northern Pacific 553
Northern Pacific dome 554
Northern Pacific 554
Northern Pacific Vista Dome
Northern Pacific
Northern Pacific vistadome 380
CB&Q Northern Pacific 380
Northern Pacific vistadome 377
Northern Pacific 377
Northern Pacific vistadome 554
Northern Pacific 554
Northern Pacific Vista Dome 379
Great Northern Railway 379
Empire Builder Vista Dome 1332
Great Northern Railway 1332
Spokane, Portland & Seattle 306
Spokane, Portland & Seattle 306
Alaska Railroad domes 501 and 521
Alaska Railroad 501 and 521
Alaska Railroad dome 502
Alaska Railroad 502
Alaska Railroad dome 522
Alaska Railroad 522
Southern Railroad parlor dome 522
Southern Railroad 522
Southern RR 1613
Southern Railroad 1613
Southern RR 1613
Southern Railroad 1613
Sliver Planet became Amtrak la 108 san fernando
WP Silver Planet in Amtrak colors LA-108 "san fernando"
Amtrak vista dome 9351
Amtrak 9351
Rio Grande dome 1248
Denver and Rio Grande Western 1248
Rio Grande dome 1250
Denver and Rio Grande Western 1250
Rio Grande dome 1250
Denver and Rio Grande Western 1250
this was Union Pacific 7001
Ex-Union Pacific 7001
Norfolk and Western 1613
Norfolk and Western 1613
Norfolk Western 1613
Norfolk and Western 1613
Great Northern vista dome 1320
Great Northern 1320
Great Northern vista dome 1331
Great Northern 1331
VIA skyline 500
VIA Skyline No. 500
Denver and Rio Grand Western
Rio Grande
Sierra Hotel private varnish
privately owned Sierra Hotel
VIA in Edmonton in 1987
VIA Rail
inside a vista dome
Inside of a Vista Dome
Inside a VIA Rail dome car
Inside a VIA Rail vista-dome
Inside a VIA Rail dome car
Looking up into the dome
Inside a vista dome at dawn
Dawn in a Vista Dome
Inside a vista dome at night
A dome after passengers have gone to bed
inside a SRR dome
Inside a Southern vista dome
Inside an Alaska Railroad dome car
Inside an Alaska Railroad Vista Dome
Inside an Alaska Railroad dome car
Inside an Alaska Railroad Vista Dome
1957 in a vista dome
3rd Dome In Cal Zephyr Train No17 7-16-57
CP RAIL dome car
CP Rail Vista Dome
Green Bay and Western 118
Green Bay and Western 118

History of the Native Son, the first photo on this page

This car was built by ACF, American Car and Foundry, in 1955 as Union Pacific 9006. Initially assigned to the UP "City of Portland" train which ran between Chicago and Portland, Oregon. Acquired by the original Auto-Train in 1973. Converted to private car by Golden Spike Tours and named Native Son. The car was completely rebuilt to a dome-sleeper in 2001 and named Bella Vista.

Names of the Vista-Dome cars used on the Californa Zephyr train Zephyrus, the Greek god of the west wind

Chair Cars
Silver Bridle, Silver Lodge, Silver Lariat, Silver Ranch, Silver Rifle, Silver Saddle, Silver Stirrup, Silver Bronco, Silver Colt, Silver Mustang, Silver Pony, Silver Dollar, Silver Feather, Silver Palace, Silver Sage, Silver Schooner, Silver Scout, Silver Thistle

Domitory-Buffet-Lounge Cars
Silver Club, Silver Lounge, Silver Roundup, Silver Shop, Silver Chalet, Silver Hostel

Bedroom-Buffet-Lounge-Observation Cars
Silver Horizon, Silver Penthouse, Silver Solarium, Silver Lookout, Silver Sky, Silver Crescent, Silver Planet

Other Vista-Dome and California Zephyr web sites
California Zephyr Virtual Museum
Web Lurkers DOME.main
The Zephyr Route is restoring Vista Domes for future use. They have the Silver View, Silver River, Silver Stream and Silver Scence in their posession.
Willy Kaemena's interactive 360 panoramas of the Grand Canyon Railway Vista Dome


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©2002,2007,2008,2009,2010 John Simakauskas
Last update February 27, 2010