City of New Orleans (train)

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City of New Orleans
Amtrak's City of New Orleans stops at the Memphis, Tennessee, station in 2005.
Service type Inter-city rail
Status Operating
Locale Central United States
First service May 1, 1971
Current operator(s) Amtrak
Ridership 639 daily
233,318 total (FY11)[1]
Start Chicago, Illinois
Stops 17
End New Orleans, Louisiana
Distance travelled 934 mi (1,503 km)
Average journey time 19 hours
Service frequency Daily each way
Train number(s) 58, 59
On-board services
Class(es) Coach and First Class (sleeper)
Seating arrangements Reserved Coach Seat
Superliner Lower Level Coach Seats
Sleeping arrangements Superliner Roomette (2 beds)
Family Bedroom (4 beds)
Superliner Bedroom (2 beds)
Superliner Bedroom Suite (4 beds)
Superliner Accessible Bedroom (2 beds)
Catering facilities Fully licensed dining car
On-board café
Observation facilities Sightseer Lounge Car
Baggage facilities Checked baggage available at selected stations
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)

The City of New Orleans is a nightly passenger train operated by Amtrak that travels 934 miles (1,503 km) between Chicago, Illinois, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Before Amtrak's formation in 1971, the train was operated by the Illinois Central Railroad along the same route (though changes have been made since then). The train currently operates on a 19½ hour schedule. Within Illinois the City of New Orleans shares a route also served by a daily morning train, the Saluki, and a daily afternoon train, the Illini. The Illini and Saluki terminate at Carbondale, Illinois.

During fiscal year 2011, the City of New Orleans carried over 230,000 passengers, a 1.8% increase from FY2010. The train had a total revenue of $17,743,443 during FY2011, an increase of 2.9% over revenue in FY 2010.[1]


See also: Panama Limited
IC #4017, an EMD E7, leads the City of New Orleans at Kankakee, Illinois in August 1964.

The Illinois Central Railroad introduced the original City of New Orleans on April 27, 1947 as a daytime companion to the overnight Panama Limited. EMD E7 diesel locomotives pulled new lightweight Pullman Company coaches. The 921-mile (1,482 km) route, which the City of New Orleans covered in 15 hours 55 minutes, was the longest daytime schedule in the United States.[3]:91[4]:92 The City of New Orleans exchanged St. Louis—New Orleans through cars at Carbondale, Illinois and Louisville—New Orleans cars at Fulton, Kentucky. The average speed of the new train was nearly 60 mph (97 km/h); a result of the largely flat route of the Illinois Central along the Mississippi River and maximum speeds of up to 100 mph (160 km/h).[5]:117[3]:111 By October 25, 1959 the timetable had lengthened to 16 hours 30 minutes.[6] The train remained popular throughout the 1960s and gained ex-Missouri Pacific Railroad dome coaches in 1967.[5]:117

Amtrak ownership[edit]

When Amtrak assumed operation of U.S. passenger train service on May 1, 1971, the train's Chicago—New Orleans service was initially operated as the City of New Orleans on the traditional daytime schedule. Inauspiciously, the City of New Orleans was involved in Amtrak's first fatal derailment on June 10, near Salem, Illinois. Because this train made no connections with other trains at either New Orleans or Chicago, Amtrak moved the train to an overnight schedule on November 14, 1971, and renamed it the Panama Limited.[4]:94


In February 1981, Amtrak restored the City of New Orleans name while retaining the overnight schedule; Amtrak hoped to capitalize on the popularity of the song written by Steve Goodman and recorded in 1972 by Arlo Guthrie.[4]:96

In the 1980s, the City of New Orleans' relied on coach passengers from small stations south of Memphis. It carried one sleeper and provided none of the luxuries of other Amtrak long-distance trains. The Heritage-equipped City of New Orleans also had no diner. The train did have a dome-coach, an Amfleet II café and a Heritage lounge, but true sit-down meals were not offered and passengers from the 10/6 sleeper got meals reheated in the Heritage lounge car. In J. David Ingles' review of the City of New Orleans for Trains magazine, the train was named "Amtrak's Least Glamorous Long-Distance Train".

The northbound City of New Orleans began stopping at Gilman, Illinois, on October 26, 1986. Gilman had last seen service in 1971; the Illini stopped there as well. Service to Cairo, Illinois, south of Carbondale, ended on October 25, 1987.[4]:105


"Drumhead" logos such as this often adorned the end of the observation car on the Illinois Central's City of New Orleans.

Amtrak operated the City of New Orleans reliably through the 1980s and into the 1990s; in 1992, the City of New Orleans had the highest on-time performance rate of all Amtrak services at 87%.[7]

In an effort to make the City of New Orleans more "fun" – that is, more attractive to potential customers – and to make up for the fact that the once-entertaining dome car's windows were now too dirty to see through, Amtrak employees started holding bingo games in the lounge car. While the bingo did not attract any more customers to the train, the games significantly boosted the crew's morale and made the long ride (which included huge numbers of coach passengers boarding at overnight stations) slightly more bearable. However, when the Food and Drug Administration inspected the food-service cars on all of Amtrak's long-distance trains in August and September 1992, the inspectors declared the Heritage lounge car's kitchen area "unsanitary."

Starting September 21, 1992, the Heritage lounge car ran only between Chicago and Carbondale. Very early in 1993, this practice ended and the Heritage lounge cars which had previously served the City of New Orleans were sent to New York to be used on such trains as the Montrealer and Empire Service trains. With the loss of the Heritage lounge came another blow to the City of New Orleans' sleeper service. The sleeper passengers, who had previously been treated to barely decent meals in the Heritage lounge car, now faced microwaved tray-meals in the already overcrowded Amfleet café as their only hot meal options.[citation needed]

When the last Superliner II sleeping cars arrived on February 27, 1994, they were coupled into train formations and underwent test runs. The first Superliner-equipped City of New Orleans left Chicago and New Orleans on March 3, 1994. Although the City was now Superliner-equipped, it still ran with ex-Santa Fe Hi-Level cars, which were officially part of the Heritage Fleet. Despite being a Heritage car, the Hi-Level lounge cars were in significantly better condition than the old domes, and they offered more seats with panoramic views as well as a larger lounge area on the lower level. On October 30, 1994, the City of New Orleans departed Chicago with a Superliner II Sightseer Lounge and a coach section made up of only Superliner II coaches, officially ending the Heritage Fleet's tenure.[citation needed]

With the delivery of the Superliner II cars also came new diners, providing the City of New Orleans with real dining service. While the menu was smaller than that of the other Superliner trains, the new dining service was significantly better than what the City of New Orleans' previous incarnation offered. In April 1996, the City of New Orleans' dining car received a customized menu and dishes that reflected New Orleans' cuisine. Also, as a throwback to the Illinois Central's all-sleeper Panama Limited and all-coach City of New Orleans, the French toast was improved to the caliber of the Illinois Central's French toast, and listed on the menu in French, as it had been on the Illinois Central's flagship trains.[citation needed]

Throughout the City of New Orleans' improvements, New Orleans became a focus city for Amtrak. The Capitol Limited and Auto Train received Superliner II cars when the City of New Orleans did, freeing up numerous Amfleet II coaches. These now-unassigned Amfleet II coaches, as well as the Amfleet II café cars freed up by the City of New Orleans switch to Superliners meant that the New York – New Orleans Crescent was able to retire its Heritage Fleet coaches and lounge cars. The third New Orleans train, the Sunset Limited, also benefited from the arrival of Superliner II cars, and the Sunset's passengers experienced new levels of service, as well as slightly higher on-time performances due to the retirement of the Hi-Level cars. With all of New Orleans' trains now significantly upgraded, crews were based in New Orleans. The Crescent, City of New Orleans, and Sunset Limited received similarly themed lounge cars, route guides, and tour guides in the lounge cars who gave talks about passing scenery and points of interest.[citation needed]

On September 10, 1995, the train was rerouted between Memphis and Jackson due to the Illinois Central Railroad's desire to abandon the original route (the Grenada District) in favor of the newer and flatter Yazoo District. In the 19th century before the Illinois Central took them over, the old route had been the Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad from Memphis to Grenada and the Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad from Grenada to Jackson. Station stops were at Batesville, Mississippi; Grenada, Mississippi; Winona, Mississippi; Durant, Mississippi and Canton, Mississippi.

On March 15, 1999, the City of New Orleans collided with a flatbed semi-trailer near Bourbonnais. Of the 217 people aboard the train, eleven people were killed in the Bourbonnais train accident. The fourth car, where the fatalities occurred, was engulfed in flames following the collision at the crossing.[8]


While all this improvement boosted the City of New Orleans' ridership, when the Superliner II's were delivered, the train's equipment was standardized with the rest of the Amtrak fleet. While some[who?] bemoan the fact that this caused the train to lose some of its ambiance,[citation needed] the City of New Orleans trainsets turn as the Texas Eagle in Chicago with standard consists allowing for better maintenance and more comfortable passenger accommodations. The train's consist was changed to a single P42DC locomotive, two sleepers, a diner, a lounge, and two to three coaches. The City of New Orleans was host to Amtrak's Cross Country Café Diner/Lounge experiment, with simplified meals, snacks and beverages all served in a single diner-lounge car. A now-retired Amtrak Food and Beverage official wrote, "trying to have one food service car on a train with three coaches (full, most nights) and one and one half sleepers (one full sleeper and one half of the dorm), just plain overwhelmed both the car and the staff, despite the best efforts of the crew." In January 2010, the separate Lounge car was restored to the City of New Orleans, again giving it two food service cars: the Cross Country Café serving as a full dining car; and the Lounge for snacks and beverages.

On April 6, 2004, the City of New Orleans derailed near Flora, Mississippi, approximately 15 miles (24 km) north of Jackson, while en route to Chicago. The train was traveling at 78 miles per hour (126 km/h) when it derailed, and resulted in one fatality, Clara Downs, of Chicago, three serious injuries, and 43 minor injuries. A subsequent National Transportation Safety Board investigation determined that deterioration of the track due to poor maintenance caused the accident.[9]

Because of damage to the states of Mississippi and Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina, Amtrak was forced in late August 2005 to cancel service south of Memphis, Tennessee. Service was first restored as far south as Hammond, Louisiana, and on October 8, 2005, Amtrak resumed service to New Orleans.[10] In December 2005 Arlo Guthrie, who helped popularize the song "City of New Orleans", led a fundraiser aboard the City of New Orleans and at several stops along the train's route to help in the hurricane recovery efforts.[11][12]


In the January 2011 issue of Trains magazine, this route was listed as one of five routes to be looked at by Amtrak in FY 2012 and examined like previous routes (Sunset, Eagle, Zephyr, Capitol, and Cardinal) were examined in FY 2010.[13] Amtrak has also introduced regional cuisine in the Cross Country Café, which is now functioning as a regular dining car, complete with a normal staffing and traditional tables.

Route details[edit]

Amtrak City of New Orleans (interactive map)
In 1995 the City of New Orleans shifted from the Grenada District (blue) to the Yazoo District (red) in northern Mississippi.

Upon Amtrak's creation in 1971, the City of New Orleans was one of four trains that called at Chicago's Central Station, which was originally Illinois Central's terminal in Chicago. All Amtrak trains were consolidated to Union Station by March 1972.[2]

The tracks used were once part of the Illinois Central Railroad system, and are now owned by the CN. The following lines are used:

In fiscal year 2004, the City of New Orleans achieved an on-time performance rating of 67.6%.[14] The train's average on-time performance rating for fiscal year 2006 was 86.8%, reaching as high as 93.5% for the month of May 2006.[15]

While suggestions have been made to extend the City of New Orleans service east from New Orleans to Orlando, Florida, Amtrak has not yet made any formal proposals to do so.[16]

Folk song[edit]

"City of New Orleans" is a folk music song written and first performed by Steve Goodman in 1970 and subsequently recorded by Arlo Guthrie in 1972 and many other artists, notably Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, John Denver (with slightly different lyrics), Judy Collins, and Jerry Reed. The song lyrics trace the trail of the train route (above) in celebrating the "...disappearin' railroad blues...." Interestingly enough, Tom Rush performed and recorded a folk song (based on some Bukka White songs) about the Panama Limited, the overnight train along the same route as the City of New Orleans.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Amtrak Ridership Rolls Up Best-Ever Records" (PDF). Amtrak. 13 October 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Kelly, John. "Amtrak's beginnings". Classic Trains (Kalmbach Publishing). Retrieved 2007-07-11. 
  3. ^ a b Murray, Tom (2006). Illinois Central Railroad. Saint Paul, MN: Voyageur Press. ISBN 0760322546. OCLC 69734385. 
  4. ^ a b c d Sanders, Craig (2006). Amtrak in the Heartland. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34705-X. OCLC 61499942. 
  5. ^ a b Schafer, Mike; Joe Welsh (2002). Streamliners: History of a Railroad Icon. Saint Paul, MN: MBI. ISBN 0-7603-1371-7. OCLC 51069308. 
  6. ^ Downey (2007), 35.
  7. ^ "NARP: December 1992 Hotlines". National Association of Rail Passengers. 1992-12-04. Retrieved 2007-07-11. 
  8. ^ National Transportation Safety Board (2002-02-05). "Railroad accident report: Collision of National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) train 59 with a loaded truck-semitrailer combination at a highway/rail grade crossing in Bourbonnais, Illinois, March 15, 1999" (PDF). Retrieved 2005-01-27. 
  9. ^ National Transportation Safety Board (2005-06-26). "Derailment of Amtrak Train No. 58, City of New Orleans, near Flora, Mississippi, April 6, 2004" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-07-11. 
  10. ^ "City of New Orleans rolls into Big Easy". Associated Press, reprinted by MSNBC. 2005-10-08. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  11. ^ Marcus, Richard (2005-09-21). "Arlo Guthrie's City of New Orleans Benefit". Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  12. ^ Lydersen, Kari (2005-12-17). "Storied Train Used As Vehicle For Giving". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  13. ^ "Amtrak's Improvement Wish List", Trains, January 2011, 20-21.
  14. ^ "Amtrak On-Time Performance and Losses for FY 2004". United States Department of Transportation, Office of Public Affairs. Archived from the original on 2007-02-18. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  15. ^ Amtrak (2007-06-07). "Monthly Performance Report for May 2007" (PDF). p. E-7. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  16. ^ Theroux, Paul (2007-03-08). "This Week At Amtrak 2007-03-08". United Rail Passenger Alliance. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 


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