My day leaving Memphis I knew would be early, the City of New Orleans leaves at 6:50am. MATA luckily has quite decent weekday service but I had to walk south a few blocks since the first trip on the 2 would arrive in downtown too late. I woke up a little after 5am and walked south to a stop on the 57. The bus finally arrived at 6:10 about 5 minutes late (right as I was getting nervous). It was quite crowded with early shift workers (lots of people in job uniforms) and got me into downtown at about 6:30.
I hear a whistle off in the distance and look down a side street to see a single silver P40 (much to my surprise not a P42, I only know the differences from the Locomotive numbers) leading the City of New Orleans over the quiet streets of Memphis (and I think following the waterfront streetcar line through its grade crossings along the Mississippi). I walk the few blocks south to the train station and get some morning photos from the street and walk up through the station to the platform. There was a giant blob of people at one car waiting to board but I didn’t bother yet. Instead I choose to walk the platform getting pictures of the train including our locomotive getting refueled. I walked back to the last coach car where everyone going from MEM to NOL was boarding. The conductor on the platform asked me if my ticket had been lifted and I said no. I opened my phone up (zoomed in on the QRL code) and he asked me to double tap out to full size and he zapped my ticket with his eTicketing iPhone in its special dock. My first eTicket experience now complete. The coach attended handed me seat 61 (a window) and I realized I was going to be the last to board as I wondered upstairs and might be the only one with two seats to himself.
I got to my seat and there was a lady already in it. She was desperate for a window and not handed an odd number (something I often argue over). There is another empty row of seats behind us where I attempt to sit, the coach attendant not happy. He yells at the lady to go to her assigned seat but she doesn’t leave and its implied with seat checks I am supposed to be in the aisle next to her. (On a day train, I don’t really care, I have the sightseer lounge to sit at the windows in). I go and get a back window look as we leave Memphis. Another conductor comes through asking for everyone’s last name to confirm ticket lift on their iPhone. We leave Memphis behind entering fields.
7:22 – see horn lake as we enter mississippi and then to through the first town, Walls. I try and have breakfast in the diner, a Cross-Country Cafe but am told that “It’s broken” with sleeping car passengers getting food from the lounge as well. (a refrigeration or stove issue I don’t know?).
7:27 – We slow down and see some CN track work. Today’s trip is all on the CN (technically the Soo line it’s American subsidiary officially but branded as CN). TThey own the track to have access to a golf coast port. The dining car is staffed since I did see a few chefs step off to smoke. It’s really nice to be sitting with my feet up in the lounge car than on a bus. Had I been traveling with someone I would have paid just $60 more for a roomette which would have basically paid for itself through the free meals, good thing I didn’t.
7:53 – the little town of Crenshaw
8:07 – go through slightly larger Marks and enter a swamp then Lambert I read from a water tower
8:16 – the train continues through standard empty fields.
8:32 – pass some huge cornfields, am I back in iowa I think?
8:39 – go slowly over a muddy river
At 8:55 we arrive in Greenwood, a smoke stop where the conductors change. I run off and get a photo essay of the station including the tiny waiting room in a depot used by CN. We get the all aboard at 9:01. I sit in the last car at the window (with the last seat to myself) and watch a women running to meet the train. New conductors get on board and announce they want to see all ticket stubs. That has never happened on a long distance train before. As we leave I see our previous conductors making there ways into the non-public CN area of the station building. I show the PDF of the email on my iPhone which is accepted. I have some back window time and decide its time to return to the lounge car and sit. I notice the conductor is even waking people up to check tickets. He doesn’t check the lounge.
9:26 – pass through Tucla a sad looking town of prefabricated homes and keep slowing down. I’m in the lounge car overhearing the CN detectors on a railfans radio nearby they all end with the automated voice saying “Have a Safe Day”. We slow down to let some containers pass.
9:35 – pass Antioch church, paster Joe Jackson in the middle of a cornfield. We’re going 67 mph. I notice a man, mechanic perhaps? With an Amtrak ID and an Acela hat but no other uniform walking the train with keys. I then here what sounds like a drill in the Dining Car. I guess there trying to fix it in route?
9:51 – we slowly enter Yazoo city, a flag stop I hear one off.
9:55 – we stop at a simple platform with a fence, shelter but a tactile warning strip and pass the scrap yard of the day and reenter cornfields.
10:05 – Stop in Bali (spelling ?) the conductor announces were waiting for an empty coal train to pass before we can continue. There is another siding with tank cars on it. At 10:11 I see the orange of 3 BNSF locomotives (guess they have trackage rights). I notice that most have the new orange BNSF railway logo but some are the Diamond logo and others the old BN logo. It isn’t a unit coal train, there no locos at the back.
10:34 – Pass the historic depot of Flora, but not a passenger stop
10:46 – We slowly start entering the outskirts of Jackson passing some autoracks being unloaded in a fenced off (including from the mainline) barbed wire area
10:54 – It’s slow running into Jackson, passing CN Jackson terminal before stopping 2 miles from the station at the southern end of this yard. A train is being built on one side of us. We slowly proceed forward and the announcement to not leave trainside if you stretch your legs. We won’t leave tardy. This is the final smoke stop.
We arrive at 11:03 and that early I am tempted to run into the station. I notice that were on an elevated viaduct and the modern elevator/staircase is crowded with people boarding and detaining. I do get to the opposite end of the train though for a few more photos of our P40 (not a 42) locomotive. The fact this train uses a Superliner Coach/Baggage car in the middle of the train and not the standard baggage car behind the locomotive makes these easier. The sleeper attendant yells all aboard hearing the double whistle from a freight train, but then retracts laughing at herself. I get my photo essay and end up re-boarding from the heat slightly early to the last row of seats in my coach. There is a nice modern canopy on the present side platform but it is covering up the area where the lounge and broken dining car have platformed. My supposed seat mate is asleep across both seats and the grumpy attendent comes back to sound like he is not happy about things. The seat across from me is also supposed to be empty but one of the two ladies traveling together across from me and now occupying it. We slowly pull up at 11:26 and I see that a second former platform is now used for baggage on the other side of Amtrak’s track. We stop again still in the station. There are the remains of two other platforms that are in surpassingly good shape. At 11:30 we slowly leave Jackson for good. There doing track work just south of the station.
11:39 – we keep leaving Jackson mostly by trees but going under highways. We pass a full coal train on a siding hearing the clicking-clack of jointed rail. We regain speed and enter single track territory on what I believe is good welded rail.
11:52 – pass a neat old depot in Terry, I am not at the back window for a photo.
12:05 – Announcement for a double stop in Hazlehurst, once for sleepers then coaches. We finish at 12:08. I get some rear window photos of the platform with a bus shelter and depot beyond. Then it’s back to mostly trees.
12:28 – We arrive in Brookhaven, MS at a modern platform, canopy and a building which calls itself a transportation center beyond. It looks like a converted factory with a chimney. We then pass the former depot with a fenced off brick platform that stretches for a few blocks. The train here feels like a local state supported train (Adirondack feels most similar) making stops every 20 minutes.
12:47 – Pass a small lake an we enter Macomb, MS. We stop in the town with a little cute station and a locomotive and tender. Im sitting in my rear seat due to the stops quick succession followed by an announcement for free soda in the lounge. I rarely drink soda but decide to have an 8 oz Sierra mist natural with real sugar. They must be dealing with extra stock from the broken diner.
1:01 – then they announce free turkey and Swiss hoagies. I am still a college student at heart and although I’m fairly full from my peanut butter sandwiches I ate a half hour earlier it is time to see what this Amtrak creation is like. Its bland and basically tastes likes melted cheese.
1:25 – I see Louisiana state highway signs as I chat with a man who stayed put during Katrina and works for the water board
1:32 – pass through Independence
1:38 – announcement for Hammond staffed with checked luggage, we soon arrive at a modernized platform with green railings. 1 hour to New Orleans.
1:50 – We slow down to go through Ponchatoula with a nice restored depot and a steam engine
1:58 – start going through swampland. They announce there are free sandwich boxes. These are more fancy from some gourmet sounding deli and look like boxed lunches brought on for those in the sleepers. I don’t grab a sandwich, there a turkey again but enjoy a chocolate chip cookie and chips
2:05 – go over the causeway over the waterway between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain
2:12 – We follow and go around Lake Pontchartrain as there are a bunch of discarded jersey barriers between the train and the lake
2:16 – Stop following the lake but keep seeing swampland before the lake emerges again and we go under a highway
2:30 – pass the City of New Orleans going the other way and see the airport off in the distance with its long term parking lots. Then we start going by houses. These continue as another rail line starts to also follow us.
2:40 – We have a clearly new Orleans based crew. I can tell by the attendants bag and he’s collecting all the seat head coverings and pillows. The older attendant who was not happy with my seat mate is singing as he works.
2:43 – announcement to return to your seats that the upper level of the lounge is closed and to remain seated until we hear otherwise. The reason is because we have to back in around a wye to enter New Orleans. No locomotive photos here in New Orleans since I’ll be right at the station exit since we’re backing in. I see the conductor coming to the back to radio with backing in. He sits and starts chatting with the ladies across from me about how all he can think about is paying for camp for his 5 kids.
2:49 – pass the building home to the times Picayune. The conductor is now talking about his years in the military as. He then opens up the back door to radio the movement. We pass the shop with a spare locomotive and a few Superliners but nothing looks like it is being stored for the single level Crescent.
At 2:56 we enter the platform slowly. The conductor says hello to station crew by name. We stop once for safety part way in and continue very slowly back to the red bumper block. There is an announcement that it is now safe to detrain but for the last car to please let the conductor out so he can come downstairs. At the end of the car I am the last one to detrain.
I get a few photos as I slowly leave the platform and walk into the nice art deco terminal shared with Greyhound. I get outside and notice a woman waring a backpack and looking at directions. I ask her if she’s trying to go to the India House, she says yes, I grab my iPhone to navigate there. We walk over two miles there quite quickly, a rarity when I end up walking somewhere with someone (I’m often yelled at for going too fast). The youth hostel is definitely not the cleanest of paces (as all the reviews say) but my nice wide bunk in a squeaky metal bed is more than adequate and is luckily quite far away from the central communal area so it should be relatively quiet.
I drop my bag off and by 4:00pm hit the Canal Street streetcar back into downtown. I decide to first take a little walk in the French Quarter to get that out of the way. I end up on the Waterfront Streetcar which only runs every 20 minutes but a car is coming. I take that back to the Canal Street Car and get off to transfer to the historic and original St. Charles Streetcar. Each line has its own rolling stock, the Waterfront (non air-conditioned) and Canal Street (air-conditioned) use replica modern streetcars which include wheelchair lifts that take up a lot of space. The St. Charles Line is the only one that has had continuous operations through the American Streetcar Scandal. All the operators are extremely friendly waving at each other whenever two cars pass and are also good at helping tourists. The streetcars serve an interesting contrast of locals and visitors. I take the St. Charles line out to the area right in front of Loyola University and get some water in a nearby park before riding back into the city. On this trip my relatively empty streetcar catches up to the one in front and at a stop we are all requested to get off and board that car instead. The drivers radioing each other to facilitate this. I get to Lee Circle where the streetcar directions separate and follow different one-way streets through downtown. Here the tracks act like a traffic circle with the two directions sharing track in the same direction of travel (but there are no intermediate stations). I go back and wonder around the waterfront and then the french quarter to see how ridiculous it is at night. The main thing I notice is New Orleans allows drinking out on the streets, European style (in a plastic cup, not a glass bottle).
I end up taking the streetcar back out to the hostel and am contemplating calling it an early night when I get distracted talking and end up finally excusing myself and going to bed at 3am! The most interesting and memorable part of this little group of us is the fact I am surrounded by three people who work out on cruise ships out at sea. One is Sweetish and works in floating casinos, the other two are two American girls who are in the entertainment shows on Holland American Line. It is really interesting to hear how the main pass time it seems of the crew is drinking. I mention the fact I am getting really sick of all the ads for Disney Cruise Lines in New York City and they mention it is a company they have no interest in working for because the rules of how the crew must conduct themselves are much more strict.