Imagine. Rather than waking up predawn to beat Los Angeles traffic on the 405 and get to LAX in time for an early morning flight up to San Francisco for a long day of meetings and then doing it all over again at the end of the day, you climb onto a classic 1950s Pullman train the night before your meetings, maybe have a nightcap, and tuck into bed for a solid eight hours of sleep. Ten hours later, you pull into San Francisco after some coffee and breakfast aboard and you’re ready to tackle the day.
This is the vision that Newport Beach, California–based Dreamstar Lines has for creating an overnight rail connection between two of California’s most iconic cities—an experience that hasn’t been available since the 1960s—offering travelers the chance to arrive in either Los Angeles or San Francisco well rested after having been transported back in time to a simpler, more elegant era of travel. One without the long lines, delays, cancellations, and frustrations of commercial air travel.
“The airport is quick when you’re actually on the plane,” says Dreamstar CEO Jake Vollebregt. But, he adds, “You have to be entirely focused on those transactions of getting through the airport, and then getting from the airport to wherever your meeting is. That kind of friction and frenetic experience, it’s so different from rail travel where you can be entirely focused on some other task—whether it’s resting or working, having a nice meal. Rail is so much better in that way.”
Dreamstar’s plan is to purchase or lease vintage Pullman train cars that would ultimately run along the Union Pacific’s coastline route from Los Angeles, through Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and up to San Francisco—as well as the reverse. Two trains would leave nightly, one heading north and one heading south, at 10 p.m., and arrive at their final destination 10 hours later.
Accommodations will include a single-occupancy roomette with a rate of $300 each way, a double-occupancy room for $600 each way, and a first-class double-occupancy stateroom with a private bathroom and a queen bed with a $1,000 price tag each way.
Initially, the trains will consist of 5 or 6 cars that will carry up to 80 passengers in each direction and could eventually grow to 10 or 12 cars with a capacity of up to 150 passengers. The trains will include a bar car with some desserts, “tavern food,” and continental breakfast service. There won’t be a full dedicated dining car at first, in part because of cost and in part because the trains will depart at 10 o’clock at night.
“There are 40 million trips between Los Angeles and San Francisco every year; we really only need to service a small percentage of them” to be successful, says Vollebregt.
The hope is to get the new overnight train service up and running by summer 2024.
The last time there was overnight train service between Los Angeles and San Francisco was in 1968, when the Lark, which was operated by the Southern Pacific Company, was discontinued. Today, Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train runs from Oakland (not San Francisco) to Los Angeles with additional stops in between and operates during the day—not overnight.
As for whether a high-speed rail project currently underway in California with the goal of connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles by rail in under three hours (with an estimated completion date of between 2030 and 2033) would ultimately compete with Dreamstar’s retro overnight rail experience, Vollebregt says, “We think there’s more than enough room for both of us.”