Well ideally my next post and update would be of the new Second Avenue Subway Stations. Unforchunately the timing of the subway’s opening couldn’t have been poorer, had it opened on a random weekend I may have used it as an excuse to fly east for a weekend visit. Unfortunately it opened on New Years Day and I had already made plans with my lady Louise to head down to New Orleans for the weekend. Since then I’ve spent two more weekends away (in Tucson followed by Southern California, although I didn’t do any more train riding, just lots of flying) and have been nowhere east of South Bend. The next time I’ll be in New York for a weekend is in early February and I hope to have a chance to at least ride the new Subway (don’t know if I’ll have time to do justice to the 3 new and one greatly renovated stations).
Anyway this post is a trip report and 3 new stations from our end-to-end Roomette trip aboard Superliner-II ‘Louisiana’ on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans. The trip represented new trackage from Champaign-Urbana (previously covered when I took the Illini from there to Chicago) to Memphis (I took the City of New Orleans once before, on the Tennessee to Texas trip, where sadly most of my photos were lost in a hard drive crash). I didn’t get to enjoy any of the new trackage because I was sleeping in the upper Roomette bunk (my lady trumped me) pretty much fromChampaign to Memphis.
The trip began with an extremely crowded ride on the 4:45pm South Shore Line train from South Bend with tons of people heading into Chicago for the holiday weekend.
We spent the ride listing to some extremely obnoxious college age kids who were all clearly high school friends. Louise remarked as we got off at Van Buren Street that “This is what I absolutely don’t miss about high school. They are so obnoxious.”
We walked across the loop to Union Station and checked into the new Metropolitan Lounge. Louise was extremely impressed and (as a pHD student, unlike me who’s now on the clock except for hobbies like this website) decided to get some work done really liking the atmosphere. I explored the lounge a lot, upstairs is where you’ll most likely find me on future Sleeper and Business Class trips through Chicago. These are photos from upstairs, I didn’t get any decent photos of the lounge downstairs (now if only I could still take AGR points runs to maintain Select+ Status I would be here a lot more, it was fun while it lasted):
I also went on a bit of an adventure to find the nearest ATM outside the lounge (I learned after I returned that there was one inside the lounge!) lacking any cash for tips. The Great Hall was also decorated for Polar Express excursions powered by Amtrak (I think it’s a charter arrangement) with the train’s destination listed as North Pole throughout the station.
At about 7:30pm we were called for boarding and headed out to the train, walking out through the normal platform exit, and skipping the line of coach passengers, the staff knew what we were doing, we passed the line of coach passengers lining up for seat assignments and walked out to the single full sleeper on the train.
At the door there was a bit of confusion, we had been assigned room 8 but the attendant asked us if we would take Room 6 so a family of 4 with two roomettes could be across the hall from each other. We of course agreed. We were also told to head back to the Cross-Country Cafe car for dinner. As we walked there I found the remains of the Superliner-II nameplate (they were named after states) on the interior door. We fittingly taking ‘Louisiana’ down to New Orleans.
We settled in and headed back to the Cross-Country Cafe as we slowly left Chicago doing the back up move across the Chicago River (the skyline was pretty) and eventually leaving down parrallel to the very tracks we road the South Shore Line in on just a few hours ago.
In the dining car we sat down with a Mom and two little kids. The new ‘Express Dinner’ on the City of New Orleans (that has lacked a chef for the past two years) has been degraded to two types of Sandwiches, a turkey and cheese or a cuban sandwich (the cuban was served on nice Italian Focaccia bread) or a salad option. We each got a sandwich, and each ate an half of each sandwich. They were surprisingly good and filling (better than the average AmSandwhich in the cafe care) but made me wish I could expose Louise to the usual AmSteak Sleeping car dinner. Dessert was just two packaged cookie options that were okay.
We returned to our room with the packaged cookies and enjoyed watching the dark lights of Illinois before getting the room made up and heading to sleep (with me climbing up into the tight upper bunk) during the fresh air stop that I didn’t partake in in Champaign-Urbana. I was rocked to sleep on new trackage that I couldn’t see and slept okay definitely with the usual wake-ups during the night.
I fully woke up as we arrived in what was clearly Memphis–(33 Photos) nicely early at 6:08, 19 minutes early. I got nearly a full photo essay, including some nice photos of the locomotive being refueled. Although should have gone downstairs and outside the main entrance for a few exterior shots. Signs in the station said the main entrance to the Amtrak portion of the station would be closed effective tomorrow with all access now from the trackside parking lot (super-unfriendly for people accessing the station as pedestrians not in vehicles).
I re-boarded the train and found Louise awake so we soon headed for breakfast as we left Memphis a little late. The options were an omelet, a southern style breakfast sandwich, or the continental. The attendant immediately informed us they were out of omelets, I ordered the Breakfast Sandwich (which was clearly re-heated but okay) and Louise ordered the continental which looked normal, like those found on most trains.
I then decided to head back to the room for a post-breakfast nap (we asked the attendant to leave the beds down until the last possible moment) while Louise worked in the lounge. We slowly lost some time waiting for freights on sidings, as I soon rejoined Louise in the lounge. This trip is in CN-owned trackage and it was fun to spot this unpainted since CN acquired BC Rail locomotive
We made it to the next stop of Greenwood, MS, 52 minutes late. (a conductor crew change that I remembered stepping out at on my on time previous trip) but no smoke stop was announced. A women in our sleeper with a “service/therapy” dog we watched trying to find some shrubbery beyond the chain-link fence. We left at 9:59, an hour down.
I tried to do a little website work in the lounge as we headed through Mississippi through small towns, the next stop being Yazoo City (a fun name!)
It was an un eventful ride until we were soon heading into the Jackson suburbs and two our final fresh air stop of Jackson, MS–(22 Photos). We arrived at 11:47, 35 minutes late. With a super long line of coach passengers that the crew was scanning and assigning seats to on the rainy platform made me take the risk and go downstairs into the station. I also got some nice photos of the engineers changing.
I re-boarded the train as we left Jackson, MS at 12:01pm, 41 minutes late. We slowly left passing more freight trains.
Soon our stomachs and the call for lunch directed us to the dining car. The choices for lunch were the same sandwiches from yesterday, salad, and two warmed TV-dinner style entrees, the pork and potatoes were surprisingly eatable that everyone at our table ordered.
We eventually returned to our room for an afternoon nap and enjoyment of the scenery of small-town Mississippi as we nearly gained nor lost time. As we headed into Louisiana we had the worst delay of the trip, sitting on a siding in sight of Hammond, LA Station for a good 40 minutes, with a couple northbound freights and finally the northbound City of New Orleans passing us. We eventually left Hammond at 3:16pm, 1 hour and 48 minutes late.
After that the attendant said he needed to re-make the rooms and we headed into the lounge car as we went over the causeway between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain. This is definitely the most scenic part of the trip. The lounge car felt like a party with tons of others heading to New Orleans for New Years.
We eventually passed Art Egg Studios and some ads we found interesting (are they authentically old) before the train began it’s back up move into the New Orleans Station, passed the New Orleans engine shop.
We then backed in past the Louisiana Superdome and into the New Orleans Station, where a train of Horizon Cars (and a Viewliner baggage car with people in it) was slowly leaving. Signage on it said Polar Express so this event train was also in New Orleans.
We arrived in New Orleans–(20 Photos) at 4:30pm, 58 minutes late. I got some photos of the station as we left the platform and walked through the 1950s terminal with its murals and shared with Greyhound. The Polar Express area was much less impressive (just some curtains) than in Chicago.
We had reserved an AirBNB in the Garden District (hotels expensive and over-booked due to New Years) and walked over to the historic St. Charles Streetcar line to get there.
Unfortunately we were getting on a few stops beyond downtown with streetcars so crowded that 3 passed without letting us on. I had a $5 off a bunch of rides sign-up credit from Lyft so even with slight surge pricing I relented on taking the Streetcar and $4 and a pleasant Lyft driver later we arrived to our nice AirBNB hosts.