Centralia Full Dome Coach

Published: 2020-03-05 - By: CNW400
Last updated on: 2021-08-13
visibility: Public - Headline
In November 2019, Centralia Car Shops and InterMountain Railway Co. released an all-new body style. Available for the first-time in N-scale...the Pullman-Standard lightweight full-length Superdome passenger car.

Road Names and Pricing

The series includes 25 different passenger cars and in various paint schemes. The railroads represented in this collection include:
  • Amtrak
  • Canadian National
  • Chicago and Northwestern
  • CSX Transportation
  • Great Northern
  • Holland America Westours
  • Milwaukee Road
  • Norfolk Southern
  • Ontario Northland Railway
  • Via Rail Canada
The suggested retail price is $59.95.

My review includes observations of item number CCS 7107-02 Amtrak Superdome #9381 Phase 1.

Prototype History

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) developed the first successful American dome passenger car in 1945 with the introduction of the Vista Dome. The Vista Dome was a redesigned Budd stainless steel coach car created at the CB&Q’s shop in Aurora, Illinois. The dome seating area accommodated 24 passengers sitting lengthwise in the cabin facing towards the double-pane glass windows. There was an additional 46 standard seats on the lower level of the car. The passenger car began its test runs in July of 1945 on the Twin Cities Zephyr route. Five Budd-built domes cars were ordered for use on the California Zephyr when it was placed into service in 1949.

Ontario Northand's Otter Rapids

The Pullman-Standard Company continued to further develop the dome car concept with the release of a full-length design with seating extending the length of the car. The full-length design allowed seating for 68 passengers in the upper level, nearly three times as many seats when compared to the short dome cars. There was also seating available for 28 additional passengers in a cafe lounge on the lower level.

The new design was met with a set of challenges. First, the full dome scheme demanded an extensive air conditioning system and a dedicated 70 horsepower diesel engine to run the climate control functions. Furthermore the curved glass roof demanded a reinforced frame design to handle the weight of the full dome feature. The full-length dome car weighed over 220,000 pounds and required heavy three-axle trucks manufactured by General Steel Castings of St. Louis. At that time the typical streamlined passenger car weighed 120,000 to 140,000 pounds. The result was an 80-foot passenger car with an estimated cost of $320,000 (about $3.1 million in 2020 dollars), more than double the cost for a standard streamline passenger car at that time.

The dome-cars had three levels. Once passengers entered the train car they had the option of climbing a confined stairway to the dome seating area or continuing into a passageway that ran through the length of the car. Lastly, once past the wheel sets, three steps down allowed excess to the “sunken” cafe lounge area.

The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road) placed an order for ten dome cars from Pullman-Standard: four for the daytime Twin Cities Hiawatha (Chicago - Twin Cities) and six for the Olympian Hiawatha (Chicago - Pacific Northwest). The ten cars were assigned road numbers 50-59 and the Milwaukee Road began to place them into service starting in late 1952. The cars were dubbed the Superdomes by way of a naming contest won by Milwaukee Road employee B.H. Perlick. Some other names considered were Panorama Dome, Ultra Dome and Master Dome. They were the only Pullman-built curved glass domes until 1958 when they built six domes for the Union Pacific-Wabash operated City of St. Louis streamlined train.

Superdome #50 was involved in a wreck on a test run in May of 1953 just outside of Superior, Montana. A broken rail that derailed seven cars caused the accident. The Superdome caught on fire and was completely ravaged. The damaged car was returned to the Pullman shop and was rebuilt with the original underframe and some salvaged parts. The Pullman-Standard Company considered this rebuild as a “repair” and the dome car retained its road number 50 designation.

Although a great marketing success for the Milwaukee Road, there were complainants about the cars rough ride and poor view from the seating positioned too low compared to the dome’s bulkhead supports.

The Milwaukee Road discontinued the Olympian Hiawatha service in 1961 and the six-assigned Olympian Superdomes saw action on the Milwaukee Road-Union Pacific shared City of Denver route and the Chicago to Madison short-haul. In 1964 the Milwaukee Road sold the six dome cars and their Skytop observation -sleeping cars to the Canadian National Railway. The remaining four domes continued on the Twin Cities Hiawatha.

Canadian National (CN) assigned the six dome cars to the Super Continental and Panorama Trains and re-named them Sceneramic cars. The CN converted the upper level into an open lounge reducing the seating to 54 and the lower level to a cafe with seating decreased to 20 passengers.

VIA Rail Canada inherited all six of these cars in 1977 and used them into the 1980’s before they were sold to private owners.

Amtrak leased the remaining four dome cars on its inception in 1971 before purchasing the cars outright. These passenger cars were placed on such routes as the San Francisco Zephyr and Coast Starlight. All four were sold in the late 1970’s.

The subject for my review is Amtrak #9381 (Super-Dome #57). The fate of #57 is as follows:
  • Sold in 1978 to private owner in Portland, OR for use as the Silver Garden Restaurant, later renamed the Warsaw Express
  • Sold to Westours in 1985 - designated road number WTMC 557
  • Sold to Transcisco in 1991 and repossessed after bankruptcy
  • Purchased in 1994 by the Washington Central Railroad (WCRC 152)
  • Sold to BC Rail (BCR 152) in 1997 for use on the Pacific Starlight Dinner Train
  • Purchased by the Ontario Northland Railway (ONT 900) in 2004. Repainted as “Otter” Rapids” for use on the Polar Bear Express train

The Model

The Superdome comes packaged in a clear plastic jewel case with a slip-off cover and a two-piece plastic cradle to cushion the model. The model information is clearly labeled on the end of the case for ease to locate when in storage. A thin plastic film was wrapped around the car to protect the print job and windows from scuff marks.

I am admittedly new to the hobby and still learning the particulars of my obsession. I was confused when I discovered a straw, tiny magnet and plastic tab inside the case. There were no instructions supplied and I assumed the pieces fit together to create a six inch pole with a magnet on its end...what it is?...why was it there?

An Internet search explained that the magnet activates the interior lighting system for the passenger car. A quick wave of the wand along side the Superdome either turns the lights on or off inside the car. The lighting is a soft white LED that completely illuminates the lower level and shines upward through the dome level middle floor section. Both end sections of the dome level are left ‘in the dark’ while three inches of white plastic glow in the middle - hardly a realistic interpretation of interior lights.

The matte silver paint job is clean and even along the entire model with true life-like colors. The familiar Amtrak red, white and blue logos and stripes are exactly placed on the model when compared to prototype imagines from 1975. The Amtrak road name is correctly located above the third lounge window and the road number is accurately found under the fourth window on one side of the car. This side also has the precise number and configuration of access panels (four) molded onto the shell.

Similarly the reverse side has the Amtrak name printed above the third window and the road number below the second window. This placement is identical to the ‘real-life’ car. Furthermore the panel compositions, while different from the other side, are also aligned in the correct locations.

The model has the proper twenty-one side window panels and three end panel window configuration as the prototype. The model also features rivets around the entire window frame structure (No I didn’t count them - LOL). The sides also include wire grab irons located at the top and bottom sections of each corner - this alignment is correct when compared to the prototype photograph.

I was extremely impressed with the flexible gangway bellows located at both ends of the car. I appreciated the extra sense of realism this added to the model. Also visible inside both bellows passageways are the car connecting doors with molded windows.

Gangway Bellows Detail

In addition to the “glowing floor”, my other complainant is the interior of the Superdome cabin. The dome does appear to have the correct arrangement and number of seats. Moreover, the upper level does feature a nice touch with grey-colored stairways and railings on each end of the car. But also I see six inches of awful yellow-white plastic seats prominently visible through the Superdome window structure. I personally would have preferred another dark color or perhaps some imagination with two-colors. I think this makes a rather impressive model look unfinished with the rather unattractive interior.

Truck Detail

The underside of the model offers no details. Each truck features three sets of silver metal wheels with truck-mounted Micro-Trains Line couplers.

Basic underframe lacks detail

The car weighs about 1.7 ounce and is 6.25 inches in length. While this weight is in the proper recommended range according to the National Model Railroad Association (which are 1.4 - 1.6 ounces for a six+ inch car), the car does “feel” a little light. But I found it a good running car on Kato Unitrack with no issues around 16” radius curves or through multiple turnouts.


This particular model brought back fond memories of my youth - of my grandfather taking me to watch the Chicago and Northwestern and Amtrak trains on “our” weekends together. This Superdome car from Centralia Car Shops and InterMountain Railway Co. would make an excellent addition to your passenger car roster. A detailed model that is true to the prototype with a few nice surprises such as the flexible bellows and interior lights. It was an excellent runner that needed no adjustment. I will set aside some project time to paint the dome seating area to imitate a more realistic decorating scheme and to block the irritating glow from the seating section below. Also a few miniature passengers would complete the scene.

This model accomplished what this hobby means to me and to many others - striking the chord of that little boy or girl inside of us. Thanks for the memories Grandpa Joe.

Click here for a link to the entire series

About the Author

CNW400 became enamored with trains while watching the ‘Green & Yellow’ double-decker cars clad with shiny green windows (C&NW) rumble by his childhood house in Chicago. His first train set was the Tyco Bicentennial model in 1976. Always a fan of the railroad, CNW400 is newer to the hobby, active for the last four years (now that all the kids are grown-up!). Furthermore, he is also a collector of railroadiana focusing on lanterns, locks & keys and insulators.