Passengers enjoy champagne aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train, a three-hour tourist train that travels through the winemaking region of Napa Valley, California. Dining cars are found on trains that travel long distances between cities. These reproduction railroad passenger cars are similar to some of the first cars ever used by the B&O Railroad when it began operating in the 1830s. They are on display at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore.
The earliest passenger cars, about 5 m (about 15 ft) long and 2 m (7 ft) wide, were virtually stagecoaches with railroad wheels. Soon larger cars with six wheels instead of four were introduced.
In the United States, the Baltimore and Ohio was the first railroad to offer passenger service, in 1830, and only three years later this line introduced a car similar to the cars used for the next 100 years.
It seated 60 passengers and was mounted on two four-wheeled swiveling trucks. Swiveling trucks permit the car to follow curves more readily and are now used in passenger car construction throughout the world. In the 20th century, six-wheeled trucks became necessary in the United States and Canada to bear the weight of all-steel cars.
Until 1904, passenger cars were made entirely of wood. In that year, cars with steel underframes were introduced on the suburban lines of the Illinois Central Railroad serving Chicago, and they soon came into general use.
In the same year the pioneer subway in New York City set an example by introducing all-steel cars. Within a short time such cars appeared on the Long Island Rail Road and on the suburban lines of the New York Central Railroad, and in 1906 the Pennsylvania Railroad put an all-steel car into long-distance service. Within 20 years such cars constituted about one-third of all passenger cars in the United States. After 1930 few passenger cars were built of other materials until lightweight alloys were developed. Steel cars proved safer and more durable than wooden cars, but they increased operating costs by requiring locomotives to pull more weight in carrying the same number of passengers. The lightweight cars, of aluminum alloy or stainless steel, and double-decker coaches, which have two tiers of seats, considerably reduced this ratio.
A U.S. or Canadian passenger car of typical design has a longitudinal central aisle with a row of transverse seats on either side. Each seat usually accommodates two passengers, and in many cars seat backs may be tilted to allow passengers to sleep in a semireclining position. European cars are divided into transverse compartments. These compartments can be entered only from the outside in most of the cars used in local service in many countries. Other trains have a narrow corridor along one side and thus permit passengers to reach lavatories and dining cars during the trip. U.S. sleeping cars and parlor cars, with porter service and individual reserved seats, correspond roughly to European first-class accommodations, and ordinary day coaches correspond to second-class cars.