The City of New Orleans in New Orleans
|Service type||Inter-city rail|
|Locale||Central United States|
|First service||April 27, 1947 (IC)|
May 1, 1971 (Amtrak)
|Former operator(s)||Illinois Central Railroad|
233,318 total (FY11)
|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|
|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 |
|Observation facilities||Sightseer Lounge Car|
|Baggage facilities||Checked baggage available at selected stations|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
The City of New Orleans is an Amtrak passenger train which operates on an overnight schedule between Chicago and New Orleans. The train is a successor to the Illinois Central Railroad's Panama Limited.
The original City of New Orleans began in 1947 as part of the Illinois Central Railroad, and was the longest daylight run in the United States. The daylight train under that name ran through 1971, when it was moved to an overnight schedule as the Panama Limited. The present name was brought back in 1981, still on an overnight schedule. The train is the subject of the bittersweet 1971 song "City of New Orleans", written by Steve Goodman.
The train operates along a route that has been served in one form or another for over a century. The Panama Limited originally ran from 1911 to 1971, though the IC ran Chicago-New Orleans trains as early as the 1900s. Additional corridor service is provided between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois–the northern leg of the route–by the Illini and Saluki.
The Illinois Central Railroad introduced the original City of New Orleans on April 27, 1947. It was a daytime, all-coach companion to the overnight Panama Limited, which had been all-Pullman for most of its run. 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. 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) with a maximum of 100 mph (160 km/h); a result of the largely flat route of the Illinois Central along the Mississippi River. By October 25, 1959, the timetable had lengthened to 16 hours 30 minutes. The train remained popular throughout the 1960s and gained ex-Missouri Pacific Railroad dome coaches in 1967.
When Amtrak assumed operation of U.S. passenger train service on May 1, 1971, it dropped the Panama Limited in favor of retaining 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.
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. A Kansas City section, the River Cities, began operation on April 29, 1984. It separated from the City of New Orleans at Centralia, Illinois (later Carbondale) and ran to Kansas City via St. Louis. This section ended on November 4, 1994. 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.
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%. Nevertheless, on-board service had declined; Trains magazine editor J. David Ingles called the train "Amtrak's least-glamorous long-distance train". On March 3, 1994, new Superliner cars replaced the single-level cars. Real dining service returned; by the early 1990s an Amfleet dinette had doubled with the lounge car.
On September 10, 1995, the train was rerouted between Memphis and Jackson due to the Illinois Central's desire to abandon the original route (the Grenada District) in favor of the newer and flatter Yazoo District. Five towns in the Mississippi Delta lost service–Batesville, Grenada; Winona; Durant and Canton.
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.
Because of damage in Mississippi and Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina, Amtrak was forced in late August 2005 to truncate the City of New Orleans at Memphis, Tennessee. Service was first restored as far south as Hammond, Louisiana, and on October 8, 2005, Amtrak resumed service to New Orleans. 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.
Starting October 1, 2019, traditional dining car services were removed and replaced with a reduced menu of 'Flexible Dining' options. As a result, the changes to the consist of the train will have the dining car serve as a lounge car for the exclusive use of sleeping car passengers.
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.
- St. Charles Air Line Railroad (IC), Chicago Union Station to the shore of Lake Michigan, now CN
- Illinois Central Railroad Chicago Branch and main line, Chicago to Cairo, Illinois, now CN
- Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad (IC), Cairo to Fulton, Kentucky, now CN
- Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern Railroad (IC), Fulton to Memphis, Tennessee, now CN
- Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (IC), Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi, now CN
- Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad (IC), Jackson to New Orleans, Louisiana, now CN
In its present form, the southbound City of New Orleans leaves Chicago in mid-evening, traveling overnight through southern Illinois and Kentucky for arrival at breakfast time the following morning in Memphis, lunchtime in Jackson, and mid-afternoon in New Orleans. Northbound trains leave New Orleans in early afternoon, arriving in Jackson in early evening, then traveling through Tennessee and southern Illinois overnight before arriving in Champaign-Urbana at breakfast time the following morning and Chicago just after rush hour.
The train provides Tennessee's sole direct link to the Amtrak system; it serves the only two Amtrak stations in Tennessee, Newbern and Memphis.
In fiscal year 2004, the City of New Orleans achieved an on-time performance rating of 67.6%. 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.
In 2016, Amtrak released a study on bringing passenger rail to the Gulf Coast that recommended extending the City of New Orleans to Orlando, Florida along trackage once traversed by the Sunset Limited but unserved since Hurricane Katrina.
The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE) is in the preliminary design phase for the Grand Crossing Project. This project will reroute the Illini, Saluki, and City of New Orleans trains from CN's tracks to Norfolk Southern's Chicago Line in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood in Chicago. This will eliminate a time-consuming switchback on the St. Charles Air Line into Chicago Union Station.
A typical City of New Orleans consist goes as follows:
- GE Genesis locomotive
- Viewliner Baggage car
- Superliner Transition-sleeper
- Superliner Sleeper
- Superliner Diner-Lounge
- Superliner Sightseer Lounge
- 2x Superliner Coach
- Superliner Coach-baggage
"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 in mourning the "...disappearin' railroad blues...." 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.
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