This fall may be the last chance rail riders have to experience a trip on Amtrak’s Great Dome Car, a vintage, bi-level passenger railcar designed for sightseeing with windows on every side including the ceiling. Great Dome Car number 10031, which Untapped Cities recently got to ride on the Downeaster train between Boston and Maine, is the last of its kind, a 63 year old car that has traveled across railways all over the United States.

Riding in the Great Dome car is a nostalgic experience. The lower level of the car has tables and booths and a kitchen that is no longer in use. On our ride from Boston to Portland, no one sat on the lower level. The best views are on top. The top level of the car features the domed, 360-degree windows and a mix of booth and swivel chair seating. Throughout the ride our train host, Fred, told passengers the history of the car and was on hand to distribute brochures and information on all the stops along the way which included places like Brunswick, Old Orchard Beach and Portland, Maine, where we stopped for the day.

You can book your tickets for Dome Car train on the Downeaster or Adirondack routes here!

There is no additional cost to sit in the dome car and seating is first come, first served. Some passengers didn’t even know about the dome car until they boarded the train! On the way up to Maine from Boston, through New Hampshire, passengers are treated to views of quaint New England towns, historic industrial areas like Haverhill, Massachusetts, natural scenery like the Scarborough Marsh in Maine, and summer attractions like the amusement park on Grand Avenue in Old Orchard Beach. On our day trip to Portland we visited the Portland Observatory, which is the only remaining historic maritime signal station left in the United States, and the International Cryptozoology Museum.

Haverhill, Massachusetts

 Scarborough Marsh in Maine

The Great Dome Car that passengers ride today was one of six built in 1955 by the Budd Company, a Philadelphia based manufacturing company founded in 1912. In the 1930s, Budd started manufacturing passenger railcars and found success with the Zephyr 9900 which featured the company’s signature ribbed stainless steel body. Budd went on to produce cars for railroad lines all over the country including the Pennsylvania Railroad, New Haven, Seaboard Air Line, Chesapeake & Ohio, Southern Pacific, and Union Pacific Railroad. In the 1960s, as people turned to cars and planes rather than rail for travel, the Budd Company shifted towards manufacturing car parts. By 1987, the Budd rail plant in Philadelphia closed down and was abandoned. The property was recently sold to a developer who will turn 138 acres of the former manufacturing plant into warehouses.

The first route of the Great Dome Car was on the Chicago-Seattle Empire Builder route which was operated by the Great Northern Railway and the Chicago Burlington & Qunicy Railroad. At that time it was known as the “Ocean View” car, number 1391. When Amtrak was formed in 1971 it took over twenty existing railroads and acquired the six dome cars that continued to operate on the Empire line until the end of the decade. In 1979 the dome cars were replaced by Superliners, an upgrade on the sightseeing car that featured a lounge with wrap around windows, built by the Pullman Standard Company. All but one of the dome cars were either sold off to other countries like Canada or Mexico, bought by private citizens or simply scrapped.

Passenger on the Great Dome Car on the Empire Builder line in 1974. Image via Wikimedia Commons, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

After a renovation in 1985, the last remaining dome car was put on Amtrak’s Auto Train which ran from Washington, DC to Orlando, Florida. After nearly ten years on that route, the car underwent another renovation and in 1999 was renumbered to 10031. Since then the car has been riding all over the country on different Amtrak routes such as the Pacific Surfliner route from San Luis Obispo, California, the Downeaster in New England and the Adirondack train from New York to Montreal.

The Dome car has always been expensive to maintain, especially with high heating and cooling costs. Now, since the train is the last of its kind, it is also more difficult to get parts for repairs. Due to these factors, the Great Dome Car’s fall run will probably be its last. The car will run on Amtrak’s Downeaster trains until September 9th when it will relocate to the Adirondack train between Albany, New York and Montréal for leaf-peeping season. The ride originates in Penn Station, but since the Dome Car roof is too high to fit through tunnels south of Albany, it gets attached to the train at the Albany station. 

You can book your tickets for Dome Car train on the Downeaster or Adirondack routes here!

Learn more Amtrak’s New York City stop, Penn Station, on our Remnants of Penn Station Walking Tour this weekend! 

Tour of the Remnants of Penn Station

Next, check out Tracking Down August Belmont Jr.’s Private NYC Subway Car, The Mineola and Daily What?! There Was Once a Fleet of White Subway Cars