Train service changed continually, so we can talk only about a moment in time. Travel back with me to June 1949. There were far less people in the world than there are today, and less had money to travel, and, in the U.S., less had moved to the West Coast. From Chicago to LA–the heaviest-traveled route west–five streamliners and six non-streamlined trains handled all traffic.
Santa Fe had three Chicago-LA streamliners: the all-Pullman Super Chief, the slower but essentially identical all-Pullman Chief, and the all-coach El Capitan, an entirely separate train on a separate schedule from the Super Chief (though in later years, the Super and El Cap would be combined). Union Pacific (and partner Chicago & Northwestern east of Omaha) had one streamliner: the coach-Pullman City of Los Angeles. Rock Island-Southern Pacific had one streamliner: the coach-Pullman Golden State.
The Super Chief, El Capitan, and City of LA left Chicago in early-to-mid evening and arrived LA in early-to-mid morning after two nights en route. The Chief, slower, left in early afternoon and arrived LA in early-to-mid morning. If you were crossing the country, chances were the Chief wouldn’t make your trip much longer because so many premier trains from the East Coast arrived in Chicago in the morning. In fact, the through sleepers from New York and Washington to LA in June 1949 operated on the Chief, not the Super Chief, and for Union Pacific passengers on the unsteamlined Los Angeles Limited, which ran on a schedule similar to the Chief”s. The RI-SP Golden State carried coast-to-coast sleepers and traveled on a schedule all its own, leaving Chicago after ten at night and arriving LA around five in the afternoon on the second day.
Santa Fe ran three all-Pullman trains: Super Chief, Chief, and, at least in summer of 1949, an all-Pullman section of the non-streamlined Grand Canyon. And Santa Fe ran two all-coach trains, El Capitan and an all-coach section of the Grand Canyon, which carried a lunch-counter diner and lounge car, mirroring El Cap’s consist, except the GC’s cars were heavyweight and it lacked the observation on the end. But El Cap’s observation car was, in fact, mainly a coach, having 42 seats, compared to the 44 seats of other El Cap coaches.
For the Super, El Cap, and the Chief, it was the era of observation cars. Less so for the City of LA and the Golden State; on the former, 3 days out of 5 a finished-end club car ran in lieu of an obs, and on the latter, 3 days out of 5 a finished-end sleeper carried the markers.
The Santa Fe Railway photo, above, reproduced here from Zimmerman, Karl, Santa Fe Streamliners: The Chiefs and Their Tribesmen; the Union Pacific photo, below, reproduced from Ranks, Harold & Wm. Kratville, The Union Pacific Streamliners; and the Richard Steinheimer photo, DeGolyer Library, bottom, reproduced from Steinheimer, Richard & Donalds Sims, Growing Up With Trains.