|City of New Orleans|
Amtrak's City of New Orleans stops at the Memphis, Tennessee station in 2005.
|Service type||Inter-city rail|
|Locale||Central United States|
|No. of intermediate stops||17|
|End||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Distance travelled||926 mi (1,490 km)|
|Average journey time||19 hours|
|Service frequency||Daily each way|
|Train number(s)||58, 59|
|Class(es)||Standard and business class|
|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|
|Gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 81⁄2 in)|
The City of New Orleans is a nightly passenger train operated by Amtrak which travels 926 miles (1,490 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.
The City of New Orleans began life as the daytime companion train to the all-Pullman car Panama Limited that also traveled the IC's mainline from New Orleans, Louisiana to Chicago, Illinois. The daytime train was significantly cheaper. This train was a major part of the large migration of African Americans from the U.S. South during the early 20th century, as it was one of the cheaper transportation options available.
When Amtrak assumed operation of passenger service on May 1, 1971, its Chicago-New Orleans service was initially operated as the City of New Orleans on the traditional daytime schedule. Because this train made no connections with other trains at either New Orleans or Chicago, the City of New Orleans was replaced by the Panama Limited on November 14, 1971. In 1974 the name of this overnight schedule was changed back to the City of New Orleans, largely due to the popularity of the song written by Steve Goodman and recorded in 1972 by Arlo Guthrie.
In the 1980s, the City of New Orleans' business relied primarily on coach passengers who boarded and disembarked at small stations south of Memphis. As a result of this, the City of New Orleans was equipped with only one sleeper, and provided none of the sleeper-class luxuries that were standard on the other Amtrak long-distance trains. In step with the low level of luxury services, the Heritage-equipped City of New Orleans also did not have a diner. While the train did have a dome-coach, an Amfleet II café and a Heritage lounge, true sit-down meals were not offered and passengers from the lone 10/6 sleeper were forced to eat pre-prepared reheated meals in the Heritage lounge car. In fact, 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".
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%.
In an effort to make the City of New Orleans more "fun" – that is, more attractive to possible 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 didn't 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 trains such 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.
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.
Also, with the delivery of the Superliner II cars 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 worlds 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: a) Improved to the caliber of the Illinois Central's French Toast, and; b) Listed on the menu in French, as it had been on the Illinois Central's flagship trains.
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.
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. 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 flat-bed 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.
While all this improvement boosted the City of New Orleans' ridership, it eventually started sharing equipment with the Empire Builder and the train lost its ambiance. When Amtrak standardized the diner service on Superliner trains in 2002, the City of New Orleans lost any remaining trace of individuality. The dramatic improvements which had successfully attracted more patronage were now gone, with the train's consist down to a single P42DC, two sleepers, a diner, a lounge, and two coaches. And then came Amtrak's ill-advised 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 3 coaches (full, most nights) and 1 1/2 sleepers (1 full sleeper and 1/2 of the dorm), just plain overwhelmed both the car and the staff, despite the best efforts of the crew". In January 2009, 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.
Similar downgrades happened to the other New Orleans trains; the Crescent, upon the delivery of the Viewliners, was put into a common consist pool with the Silver Meteor, Silver Star, and Silver Palm; after only a few years of being a remarkable train once again, the Crescent was reduced to a simple group of train cars.
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, 3 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
"City of New Orleans" is a folk music song written and first performed by Steve Goodman and subsequently recorded by Arlo Guthrie and many other artists, notably Johnny Cash, John Denver (with slightly different lyrics), Judy Collins, and Willie Nelson. 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.