Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s “City of New Orleans”’

Sanders to Present CONO Program on Zoom to Potomac Chapter NRHS

April 19, 2021

Former Akron Railroad Club president Craig Sanders will present his program on the famous railroad song City of New Orleans to the Potomac Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society via Zoom on Tuesday night.

The meeting, which begins at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, is open to all and can be accessed via the link below:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85872884361?pwd=QStGV1piS0w0WW9xUCsxOGQ0ckZKdz09

Meeting ID: 858 7288 4361
Passcode: 953143

Sanders will discuss how songwriter Steve Goodman came to write about the train with the disappearing railroad blues and how he went about trying to get a known performer to record it.

Although several artists have recorded City of New Orleans over the years the best known rendition was sang by Arlo Guthrie.

The Guthrie version reached the top 20 in summer 1972. A version sung by Willie Nelson became a No. 1 country hit in 1984 and earned Goodman a posthumous Grammy award a year later.

Out of the Fog

March 1, 2021

Last Saturday’s weather forecast called for high temperatures in the 50s and mostly sunny skies so I ventured over to east central Illinois for my first railfan foray of 2021.

The day began, though, in heavy fog caused by a temperature inversion. When I arrived in Rantoul, Illinois, the temperatures were in the low 30s.

Those conditions wouldn’t last long, but while they did I was able to get this image of Amtrak’s northbound City of New Orleans cutting through the fog at the Rantoul station.

Although this is an Amtrak stop, the City is not scheduled to stop here. The train was operating as No. 1158 on a schedule 90 minutes than usual.

That was due to track work by host railroad Canadian Pacific in the South that has the northbound CONO running later than normal two days a week.

Amtrak Sleeper Passengers Can Pre-Select Meals

October 1, 2020

Amtrak has begun giving sleeping car passengers the ability to choose their meals in advance of travel.

The option is now available for those riding the Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, and Lake Shore Limited.

Passengers will be sent an email informing them of the option as well as offering an opportunity to view menus before selecting their meals.

Amtrak expects the ability to pre-select meals to be extended to the Silver Star and Silver Meteor in the coming weeks.

The meals on all of those trains are prepared off the train and heated onboard in a microwave oven.

Sleeping car passengers can have their meals delivered to their rooms or eat in a dining car reserved for the use of sleeping class passengers.

Amtrak currently only prepares meals onboard the Auto Train, having suspended the practice for Western long-distance trains during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the passenger carrier has said the suspension of on-board food preparation for Western long-distance trains is temporary and a notice on the carrier’s website indicated that full-serving dining on those trains is suspended through Dec. 15.

Amtrak Eastern Long-Distance Trains to Get ‘Contemporary Dining’ Service Effective Oct. 1

August 12, 2019

An internal Amtrak memo that was posted on Train Orders.com had confirmed that all eastern long-distance trains except the Silver Star will adopt the “contemporary dining” model effective Oct. 1.

Full-service dining will be removed from the New York-New Orleans Crescent and New York-Miami Silver Meteor.

The Silver Star is an exception because it does not provide meal service to sleeping car passengers as part of their fare.

The Chicago-New York Cardinal will gain a Viewliner dining car that will serve as a sleeper class lounge car in the same manner as is done on the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited.

Although the Cardinal has not had meals prepared on board for several years, it did have a more expansive menu than the Lake Shore or Capitol Limited had after both switched to the contemporary dining model last year.

The net effect of the changes is to standardize food and beverage service on eastern long distance trains while reducing the number of on-board employees assigned to the Crescent and Silver Meteor.

The Cardinal and the Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans will not have a net loss of on-board jobs, but two of the positions will be reclassified as lead service attendants.

The Crescent will see a reduction of 16 positions while the Silver Meteor will lose 14 positions.

The Amtrak memo said onboard meal preparation will be replaced by a small variety of ready to serve meals that will be included in the sleeper class fare and delivered to the train just prior to origination.

All eastern long-distance trains will have two food service cars, one of which is reserved for the exclusive use of sleeper class passengers. The other is a café car open to all passengers.

Sleeping car attendants will, upon request, continue to deliver meals to passengers in their rooms.

Amtrak also plans to continue the practice of the sleeping car attendant asking passengers shortly after boarding their preferred dining times and giving reservations in 15-minute increments.

The lunch and dinner offerings on all trains will include Asian noodle bowl, red wine braised beef, chicken fettuccini with broccoli, and Creole shrimp and andouille. Dessert is available upon request.

Breakfast is described as a deluxe continental breakfast that includes muffins, yogurt, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, cereal, oatmeal and breakfast sandwich.

Sleeper class passengers and business class passengers will each receive one complimentary alcoholic beverage and unlimited soft drinks.

Business class, which is available only on the Cardinal, does not include meals.

The consist of the Cardinal will be one Viewliner baggage car, three Amfleet II coaches, one Viewliner sleeper , one Viewliner sleeper-lounge,  and an Amfleet I café-lounge with 18 business class seats, Amfleet café module and 24 booth seats.

The A end of the café car pointed toward the coaches to reduce foot traffic through the business class section.

The Cardinal onboard crew will continue to be based in New York.

The City of New Orleans will have consist of Superliner equipment, including  two coaches, a baggage-coach, a Cross Country Café that will serve as the sleeper class lounge, a Sightseer lounge that will serve as the café car for the entire train and a transition sleeper.

The Crescent and Silver Meteor will have similar consists of three Amfleet II coaches, one Amfleet diner lite car that will serve as the café car, a Viewliner dining car that will serve as the sleeper class lounge and a Viewliner baggage car. The Crescent will have two sleeping cars while the Silver Meteor will have three.

The assignments mean that Amtrak will have in revenue service at any given time 13 Viewliner dining cars of the 25 that is owns.

The memo also detailed the plans for changes in Auto Train food and beverage service in January 2020.

Complimentary breakfast and dinner for coach passengers will be eliminated in favor of an expanded café car menu sold through a Cross Country Café.

The Amtrak memo said the café car will provide “a festive environment during the trip,” although it is not clear what this is supposed to mean.

Food trucks will be selling meals at the stations in Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

Effective Oct. 1, one coach will be replaced by a sleeping car with additional sleeping cars being assigned during peak travel periods.

Food service for sleeper class will be provided by seasonal menus with variety of entrée selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

There will be a selection of cocktails, beer and wine to go with coffee and soft drinks. Amtrak said that a wine service is also being introduced for sleeper class passengers aboard the Auto Train.

The changes in onboard service aboard the Auto Train will result in 25 onboard service positions being eliminated.

Train Time at Mattoon, End of an Era for Me

July 19, 2014

Amtrak Train 390, the northbound Saluki, arrives at the former Illinois Central station in Mattoon, Ill., on March 10, 2014.

Amtrak Train 390, the northbound Saluki, arrives at the former Illinois Central station in Mattoon, Ill., on March 10, 2014.

I don’t remember when my first visit to the Illinois Central passenger station in Mattoon, Ill., occurred. It probably was the Sunday morning when my mother dropped my dad off at the station to catch the City of New Orleans to Carbondale, Ill., where he attended a one-day seminar.

I remember standing on the platform when the colorful streamliner came to a halt. My dad got a seat at a window facing the station and I waved at him as the train departed. I was probably 8 years old then, maybe slightly younger.

I was 13 when I boarded my first IC train at this station in May 1966 for a day trip aboard the Seminole to the Museum of Science and Industry. I would ride the IC to and from this station 10 times between 1966 and 1968.

My next trip from this station occurred in November 1972 and was my first trip aboard Amtrak. It was a day trip on the Panama Limited to Chicago to visit the Museum of Science and Industry.

Over the next decade, I boarded or disembarked from numerous Amtrak trains here. I really should someday count how many trips that was.

In August 1983, I moved away from Mattoon. Although I would get back there on occasion to visit my dad and stepmother, seldom did I take the train. I drove.

Another decade later that changed. I had moved to Cleveland and in April 1994 began a ritual that would play out over the next 20 years.

At the conclusion of the spring semester, I would take Amtrak from Cleveland to Chicago and connect to the Illini to reach Mattoon. Almost always these trips occurred in mid May or early June. In some years, I’d make another trip by train to Mattoon, usually in August.

I always looked forward to those trips. During the Chicago layovers I’d railfan on one of the busy freight lines served by Metra – the BNSF raceway being my favorite – or conduct research at the Chicago Public Library.

Much can change in 20 years. The Burlington Northern became Burlington Northern Santa Fe and then just BNSF. The Chicago & North Western merged into Union Pacific. The Soo Line became part of Canadian Pacific. And the Illinois Central was swallowed up by Canadian National.

Back in 1994, Amtrak’s Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited still had Heritage Fleet coaches and dome cars pulled by F40PH locomotives.

Aside from dining cars serving the Lake Shore, and baggage cars on both trains, the Heritage Fleet equipment is gone. F40s have given way to P42s.

Interestingly, the equipment on the Illini remains Horizon coaches just as it was when I began the ritual of taking Amtrak to visit my dad. However, the exterior livery and seat upholstery have changed.

Some changes had a tremendous upside. In October 2006, Amtrak introduced the Saluki, a state-funded Chicago-Carbondale service.

Scheduled to leave Mattoon at 9:31 a.m. for Chicago, it had a far more convenient schedule for me than the previous 5:23 a.m. scheduled departure of the City of New Orleans. Sure the City afforded me more layover time in Chicago and I liked having breakfast in the diner. But, man, it was early when I had to get up to go catch it.

I made countless memories during my trips to and from Mattoon over the past 20 years. I met a lot of interesting people in the dining car of the City. During one of those trips I had the best French toast that I’ve ever eaten.

I  knew that someday this ritual, like all of our life rituals, would end. I just always hoped it wouldn’t be soon.

The winds of change began blowing harder in February 2013 when my stepmother died. My dad was 87 and becoming frail. He had never had to live by himself. He got by all right for a year but my sister convinced him to move to Arizona to live with her.

Last March, I got in one more trip on Amtrak that I knew would be my last trip by train to see my dad in Mattoon.

It was a bittersweet experience that I made sure to document. As usual, there was quite a crowd waiting to board No. 390 in Mattoon on the morning that I departed.

The IC opened this station on Jan. 21, 1918. Thousands of trains and passengers have passed through its doors since then. Presidential candidates have given speeches. In April 1970, Steve Goodman got off here, having just completed the journey that would provide the impetus for him to finish a song about the train they call the City of New Orleans.

Many of the passengers on this March day were younger and probably students are nearby Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. More than likely, they have no memories and little knowledge of the Illinois Central Railroad. They’ve probably never seen photographs of the orange and chocolate brown trains that the IC once ran here that zipped along at speeds up to 100 mph between Mattoon and Champaign.

For most, if not all, of those passengers, it was just another trip. For me, it was the end of an era.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

The waiting room of the former IC station looks much as it did in IC days. However, back then all of the benches were perpendicular to the ticket office at left.

The waiting room of the station looks much as it did in IC days. However, back then all of the benches were perpendicular to the ticket office at left.

My dad is the man in the middle of the bench wearing gloves and carrying a cain.

My dad is the man in the middle of the bench wearing gloves and holding a cane.

The City of Mattoon purchased the IC station a few years ago and the local historical society worked with a preservation group to renovate it and restore it to its early 20th century appearance. The historical society now has offices in this depot and plans to open a museum.

The City of Mattoon purchased the IC station a few years ago and the local historical society worked with a preservation group to renovate it and restore it to its early 20th century appearance. The historical society now has offices in this depot and plans to open a museum.

Gathering on the platform to await the arrival of the train. If you attended Eastern Illinois University in nearby Charleston and rode Amtrak to and from school, you would have stood on this platform.

Gathering on the platform to await the arrival of the train. If you attended Eastern Illinois University in nearby Charleston and rode Amtrak to and from school, you would have stood on this platform.

The northbound Saluki approaches the Mattoon station. It would depart five minutes late, but arrive at Chicago Union Station 22 minutes early on this day.

The northbound Saluki approaches the Mattoon station. It would depart five minutes late, but arrive at Chicago Union Station 22 minutes early on this day.

Aboard the Saluki later that morning. This train always seems to be full or nearly full whenever I've ridden it.

Aboard the Saluki later that morning. This train always seems to be full or nearly full whenever I’ve ridden it.

Handling the Holiday Rush on Amtrak

December 3, 2013

Amtrak trains radiating from its Chicago hub were sold out and some carried extra coaches to accommodate the Thanksgiving weekend crowds, Trains magazine reported.

Additional cars were added to the New Orleans-bound City of New Orleans, but no additional equipment could be spared from the Northeast or West Coast.

Therefore, Amtrak skillfully used crew and equipment scheduling to operate extra sections of some trains.

One set of Horizon equipment operate extra nine round-trips on the Wolverine Service route. An additional Chicago-Quincy, Ill., round-trip ran on Sunday by short-turning the morning end-point arrivals into midday departures.

There were some minor glitches during the holiday travel period. Wednesday eastbound extra No. 356 to Ann Arbor, Mich., lost an hour and a half due to congestion, which delayed westbound No. 359’s departure as well.

Equipment problems in Chicago on Sunday delayed train No. 356’s departure by 39 minutes, but the westbound trip left Ann Arbor on time.

Long loading times at Chicago suburban stops on the first westbound train to Quincy combined with freight and Metra commuter train congestion to create a domino effect of delays throughout the day for extra Nos. 384 and No. 383.

On the Chicago-St. Louis route, No. 300’s schedule from St. Louis was moved up 35 minutes in order to provide enough time for the train set of Amfleet I cars enough time to make a run to Bloomington-Normal, Ill., and back to Chicago before going out as regular train No. 307 at 7 p.m.

On the Pere Marquette route between Chicago and Grand Rapids, Mich., morning inbound train No. 371 operated an hour and a half earlier and No. 370 to Grand Rapids departed later by a same amount of time to enable the set of four Superliners to make a midday round-trip to Holland, Mich. Grand Rapids is 25 miles from Holland, but the trip takes 45 minutes due to the route’s infrastructure.