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The City of New Orleans is a nightly passenger train operated by Amtrak which travels between Chicago, Illinoismarker and New Orleans, Louisianamarker. 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 Illinoismarker 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, Illinoismarker.


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, Louisianamarker to Chicago, Illinoismarker. 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.

Amtrak ownership

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)|Trains magazine]], the train was named "Amtrak's Least Glamorous Long-Distance Train". ===1990s=== [[Image:OP-12365.jpg|thumb|Powered by a trio of [[EMD E7]] locomotives, Illinois Central train No. 2, the ''City of New Orleans'', speeds through [[Wickliffe, Kentucky]] on [[June 24]], [[1951]].]] [[Image:IC City of New Orleans.jpg|thumb|120px|right|"[[Drumhead (sign)|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%.{{cite web| url=| publisher=National Association of Rail Passengers| title=NARP: December 1992 Hotlines| date=1992-12-04| accessdate=2007-07-11}} 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.{{Citation needed|date=January 2008}} 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|date=January 2008}} 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.{{Citation needed|date=January 2008}} 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 (Amtrak)|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|date=January 2008}} On [[September 10]], [[1995]] the train was rerouted between [[Memphis, Tennessee|Memphis]] and [[Jackson, Mississippi|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, Mississippi|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, Illinois|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.{{cite web| author=National Transportation Safety Board| date=2002-02-05| url=| title=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| format=PDF| accessdate=2005-01-27}} ===2000s=== 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. The same thing 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, Mississippimarker, approximately north of Jackson, while en route to Chicago. The train was traveling at when it derailed, and resulted in one fatality, Clara Downs, of Chicagomarker, 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 Mississippimarker and Louisianamarker due to Hurricane Katrina, Amtrak was forced in late August 2005 to cancel service south of Memphis, Tennesseemarker. Service was first restored as far south as Hammond, Louisianamarker, and on October 8, 2005, Amtrak resumed service to New Orleansmarker. 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.

Route details

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

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%. 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.

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

Folk song

"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) 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.

See also


  • Mike Schafer, Amtrak's atlas, Trains June 1991
  • Bob Johnston, Exiled to the Delta, Trains January 1996

External links

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