I arrived back at Jacksonville station around 3:45 PM, collected my suitcase, and settled
down to await the 5:00 PM arrival of the
Train #1 was still listed as being on time on the variable message sign in the station. Sure
enough the Limited pulled into JAX right on time at 5:00 PM.
Never having taken the Limited before, I was surprised to find out that they back the train
into the station. About 5 minutes after arriving, the conductor came into the station where he
started taking tickets from all of the passengers boarding the train. I had been outside
watching the train back in and recording the consist numbers, so I had to walk back into the
station to surrender my ticket.
Train #1's Consist JAX - NOL:
15 P42 Engine
12 P42 Engine
39026 Superliner II Transition
32099 Superliner II Sleeper
32070 Superliner II Sleeper
38059 Superliner II Diner
33047 Superliner II Sightseer Lounge
34139 Superliner II Coach
34113 Superliner II Coach
34059 Superliner I Baggage/Coach
8 MHC's added at JAX, off at NOL
I walked forward to the sleepers, where I met my new attendant Ennis. He immediately handed
me a dinner reservation slip as I boarded the train. There was no discussion of what time you
wanted to eat; you just got whatever time he handed you. Thankfully he had given me a 6:30 PM
seating which was acceptable to me.
I then climbed the stairs of the
Sleeper "New Mexico", TSN 0130 and headed to my home
for tonight, room "E" a
Bedroom. We pulled out of JAX at 5:33 PM, three minutes off the advertised. This
seemed an auspicious beginning as I had departed exactly 3 minutes late the day before too. We
headed out retracing the route that the Limited had just used to reach the station, through the
nearby CSX yard.
Ennis came by a few minutes after we left, to find me sitting in the dark so I could see out
of the windows better. He asked me if I was ok with the room, and I assured him that I was fine
and knew where everything was, along with how to work it. He then left and went
to his next meet and greet. From the start of the journey, I heard no announcements for dinner
at any of the expected times.
Therefore at about 6:28 PM, I headed down to the dining car, which was the very next car behind
my sleeper. I was seated almost immediately upon my arrival in the dining car. It was also at
this point that I realized why I had not been given any choice of dining times, and why there
had been no dinner announcements. Apparently based upon the passenger load, this dining car
steward was able to implement a rather ingenious plan for seating his passengers.
The steward had set things up, so that he was seating 2 tables every fifteen minutes. He
started with 2 sleeping car tables at 6:00, followed by two coach passenger tables at 6:15,
followed by another two sleeping car tables at 6:30, and so on. This had the affect of providing
a very smooth flow through the diner. The normal seating method tends to overwhelm the two dining
car attendants each with over 30 people at once, not to mention the kitchen's needing to prepare
some 60 odd meals all at once.
This way everyone received excellent service, as each group of tables was at a different
point in their meals. While I suspect that this seating method would not work with a full
passenger load on board, as you couldn't possibly feed everyone before midnight, it is definitely
a far superior way to seat when the passenger load is lighter. Kudos to yet another Amtrak
employee for using his head to the benefit of his passengers.
We called at Lake City, Florida at 6:39 PM, running 6 minutes down, while I was sipping my
wine and waiting for my dinner to arrive. I had ordered the Cajun Catfish, the catch of the day,
with a baked potato. It also came with those wax beans again, something that I was to tire of
before the end of my journey. I followed that up with a piece of strawberry topped cheesecake
again, just like I had done the night before.
I was seated with a very nice elderly couple headed to Los Angeles; they were on their first long
distance train ride. Also sitting with us was a gentleman headed to San Antonio, who had traveled
by Amtrak several times previously. Our dinner conversation was quite lively, and covered many
varied topics, including Amtrak and trains in general.
The table opposite us even joined in on some of our Amtrak discussions, as did the dining car
steward. Unlike some employees who simply consider Amtrak to be a job, the steward seemed quite
knowledgeable about many areas of Amtrak. He had one opinion which I personally hope never comes
to pass. He said that he believes within a few years that David Gunn will be forced to give up
all the long distance routes. He believes that David will instead need to take Amtrak to a
high-speed short-haul system, where one would need to change trains multiple times to ride from
coast to coast.
While we were still lingering over dessert, we stopped at Madison, Florida at 7:41 PM now
running 15 minutes down. Shortly after that I returned to my room and spent some time working on
this report, in addition to looking out the window. Traveling at this time of the year offers
one an excellent opportunity to view all the homes decorated with lights for the Christmas
holidays. I saw many fabulous displays along the way.
Tallahassee, Florida came and went at 9:01 PM EST, right on the money. Shortly after leaving
here the conductor made an announcement advising the passengers to set their watches back 1
hour, as we would be entering the Central Standard time zone. Next up was Chipley, Florida at
10:15 PM CST. We had lost 9 minutes along the way again. Shortly after Chipley I
decided that it was time for bed, as it was really 11:15 PM to me.
Since I hadn't seen much of Ennis, I didn't bother with the call bell, and just setup the
lower bed myself. As a veteran rider of Amtrak, I'm quite familiar with how to work the beds.
In fact, I once had to help a brand new attendant on the Lake Shore Limited who didn't know how
to unhook the safety harness straps from the ceiling in a Viewliner sleeper.
Friday, December 13, 2002
Once I had the bed made, I quickly dropped off to sleep. I recall waking for a station stop
at 4:31 AM, which I assumed to be Mobile, Alabama. I also awoke again around 5:51 AM, which I
believe was the stop for Biloxi, Mississippi. If I'm correct about those two stops then we were
respectively six minutes and three minutes off the scheduled arrival times for those stations.
I awoke for good around 7:30 AM, and shortly afterwards headed back to the diner for
breakfast. Once again I had my favorite breakfast: Railroad French Toast accompanied by sausage,
coffee, and orange juice. By coincidence I was seated with the gentleman from the Silver Meteor
who was headed to Houston for a funeral.
We talked some about the trip so far and the unfortunate
circumstances that had required him to take this trip. He asked me if we were on time and I
replied that I thought we were very close to being on time. He then expressed his hope that
there would be no big delays from New Orleans to Houston, even though he had some time before
the funeral on the next day.
After enjoying breakfast, I returned to my room to start preparing for our arrival into New
Orleans. I discovered that Ennis had not yet made up my bed, so I tossed the used bedding into
the upper bunk for Ennis to deal with later. I have to wonder if Ennis ever did change the
linens, or if the new attendant boarding at New Orleans was greeted with an unwelcome surprise.
I then returned the seats to their upright position. Next I proceeded to finish packing up my
belongings in anticipation of our arrival.
During most of my breakfast, we appeared to be crossing through a bayou, although at times
one could see the Gulf of Mexico off to our left. Now however, after watching the train go
through the massive flood gates that help to keep New Orleans from flooding during severe storms,
I knew that we must be close. Additionally the crowded, backed up freeways also served as a
warning that we were arriving in New Orleans.
Sure enough a few minutes later I could see Amtrak's engine facility in New Orleans off to
the left. The train continued straight across the top of a wye, so that we could back into the
station. Our first backup move was used to park the 8 MHC's on the rear of our train, on one of
the outer station tracks. We stopped at 8:20 AM so the MHC's could be detached.
We then pulled forward to clear the switches, and then once again made another backup
move to position the train on an unoccupied track right next to one of the doors leading into
the station. I considered our official arrival time to be when the train came to its final stop,
and not when we dropped off the boxcars. Based upon my watch, that meant that we arrived at 8:43
AM, 37 minutes early.
During all of our maneuvers here, the crew did an excellent job of keeping the passengers
informed of what was going on. Several announcements were made telling us what would happen
next and why. They also implored us to stay in our seats and especially to stay off of the
stairs during this time.
I carried my luggage downstairs and detrained. Ennis did get a tip, but it was small and
not nearly as handsome a tip as Larry had gotten. I felt that Ennis could have and should have
done more for me, especially since the sleeper was not full. While it didn't really bother me
to have to make my bed, the simple fact is Ennis should have come by to do it. For that matter
he never even came by once to offer to put my bed down. I don't know what Ennis was doing,
but from my observations it didn't seem like he was on top of his passengers' needs.
New Orleans Union Station
I then rolled my suitcase into the terminal and went looking for the first class lounge here.
In New Orleans the first class lounge is called the Magnolia Room. By comparison, the Northeast
Corridor's four Club Acela's and the Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago are much larger than the
Magnolia Room. There is seating here for only about 20 people, a typical automatic drip coffee
pot that you would put in your house, and a water dispenser. There are no bathrooms in the
first class area, nor is there even an attendant to check you in.
When I entered the Magnolia Room, there were already several people waiting for the westbound
Sunset Limited from which I had just detrained. I took the opportunity to watch some news on the
TV, which was showing NBC's Today Show. I hadn't seen any news for almost two days and had yet
to read the USA Today that I had received on the Meteor. I also spent some time working on
this trip report while watching the news. In addition I grabbed a cup of coffee to drink while I
After watching TV and working for almost an hour, I decided that it was time to venture out
on the town. Accordingly I packed up my laptop and went in search of some place to leave my
suitcase. Here in New Orleans, if one is traveling in a sleeper, you can check your bags for the
day at the ticket counter for free. Coach passengers on the other hand, have to pay a buck fifty
per bag. This is one area where Amtrak really should have a standard policy.
If baggage service is available at a station, then passengers traveling in a sleeper should
either be able to check their bags for free at all stations or they should have to pay at all
stations. The policy should not vary from one station to another. I also think that the fee that
is charged should be uniform. While the two stations where I checked a bag for the day each
charged a buck fifty, back in NY it is four bucks per bag.
Anyhow with my bags safely checked, except for a backpack containing my laptop, I ventured
out in search of both lunch and a ride on one of New Orleans' famous streetcars.
St Charles Streetcar Line
Since I had not really prepared for New Orleans, I wasn't really sure just where the
streetcar lines were, nor what areas they served. As luck would have it, I hit the
St. Charles Line first at Howard Circle. I hopped on board a car headed for Canal Street
not realizing that I was really only a few blocks from the end of the line. Upon arrival at
Canal Street almost everyone detrained. Neither myself nor a couple left the streetcar and the
operator didn't chase us off the car.
Again having no real clue to where I was bound, the car returned to Howard Circle where I
had boarded and I just stayed on board. I also had no clue that the St. Charles line is over 5
miles long and that it takes close to 40 minutes to ride it from one end to the other. However
it was a very enjoyable ride past many of the wonderful old homes in New Orleans.
When the car reached the end of the line, I was forced off this time along with a few other
people. We all scurried to catch the next inbound car here. Unlike the Canal Street end that
is really just a loop around the block, the cars don't loop here. Instead, the operator changes
ends after stopping on one of the two tail tracks here.
After paying another $1.50, since I hadn't realized earlier that the operators could sell
the one-day visitors pass, I was once again on my way back to downtown New Orleans. This time
the operator was a bit of a maniac, getting mad at the idiots driving their cars in front of
the streetcar to make a left turn. He would inch up until he was almost touching the side doors
of the cars blocking the tracks. When one of the other passengers commented that he was blocking
the view of the driver trying to turn, the operator responded somewhat gruffly, that he didn't
care since he had the right of way and the car should not have been there in the first place.
I once again rode past Howard Circle, continuing on until we reached Canal Street. This time
I detrained and went in search of lunch. After a walk of about three blocks, I found a
Wendy's and wandered in for
lunch. After finishing lunch it was around 12:30 PM. I briefly pondered walking over to ride a
Riverfront Streetcar, but then not knowing how long the ride would be, I
decided that it would be safest to return to Union Station to await the 1:55 PM departure of my
The sun had come out upon my arrival into New Orleans for the first time on my trip, so far.
So with temps hovering around 65, I decided to save paying another $1.50 and walk back to Union
Station instead of riding the St. Charles Streetcar again. Thanks to a rather brisk wind the walk did
get a little chilly despite the light jacket I was wearing.
The Magnolia Room
Once I reentered Union Station, I first went to claim my bags from the baggage check room. To
do this I actually had to walk out the door to the tracks and around to the luggage area in the
back of the ticket counter. After claiming my bag, I then walked back into the main station and
settled down in the Magnolia Room once again. There were at least 15 other passengers waiting
for the departure of the
City of New Orleans.
By this time it was around 1:00 PM, so I figured that I had about a half hour to maybe 45
minutes before they would start boarding us.
Around 1:25 PM or so, in walked an Amtrak employee. I immediately and quite erroneously
assumed that he was a Redcap, sans the red cap. I couldn't have been more wrong; it turned out
that he was the engineer for our train. Apparently CJ, who would be our engineer, has a habit of
coming into the lounge to introduce himself to the passengers.
He spent several minutes talking to those of us in the lounge, giving us some facts and
figures about the engine and how it works. He talked about the alerter system or dead man's
feature on the engine, and told us that he'd be the one blowing the horn and keeping us awake
at night. However, since CJ was only taking us to Jackson, MS, he actually wouldn't be the one
blowing the horn later that night when we retired for the evening. He also told us that he had
been an engineer for Amtrak for over 10 years now, and had worked for a freight RR before that.
CJ then asked if anyone had any questions for him. A few people did indeed ask him questions.
One person wanted to know how much fuel the engine would use on its way to Chicago. Someone
else had another question about the alerter system. CJ patiently answered all of their questions. He
had also brought along some candy, since he had expected to find some children in the lounge.
However there were only adults in the lounge, so he then proceeded to hand out the candy to
anyone who requested some.
Without a doubt, CJ was the best Amtrak employee that I encountered during my entire trip. He
was a real class act to take his own time to entertain, meet, and greet some of the passengers
whose lives he would be entrusted with just a few minutes from now. Even more impressive is the
fact that he used his own money to buy the candy he handed out. Especially since he's not really
on the front lines of passenger contact. I realize that the lack of trains running out of New
Orleans and the size of the lounge helps to make what CJ did possible. However, it was also quite
apparent that CJ loved his job and he enjoyed meeting his passengers.
I have to say that I was truly impressed. Having logged over 30,000 miles on Amtrak,
I've yet to meet an engineer in this manner. We can only hope that Amtrak's President David Gunn
can find others like CJ and nurture this type of customer service and enthusiasm. That plus some
steady and realistic funding from Congress would really allow Amtrak to win over many more
By the time CJ had finished talking with us almost 15 minutes later and handing out the candy,
he told us that they would start boarding the train in just a few minutes. He told us that we
should grab our belongings and line up by the gate. CJ then left the room and those of us in the
lounge proceeded to gather our belongings and headed out to the gate. As I stepped out of the
Magnolia room, there was CJ handing out the rest of his candy to the few children who would be
riding in coach, and were therefore waiting in the main hall with their parents.
The City of New Orleans
Less than a minute after lining up at the gate, along came the conductor who started pulling
our tickets and allowing us to go out onto the platform. The conductor in addition to taking the
tickets, instructed each person where they should go to board the train and what car they would
be riding in. After handing over my ticket, I rolled my bag out to the platform. As I walked
along I stopped every two cars to record the train's consist.
Train 58's Consist NOL-CHI
121 P42 Engine
80 P42 Engine
39022 Superliner II Transition
32115 Superliner II Sleeper
38061 Superliner II Diner
34042 Superliner I Coach
31510 Superliner I Coach
33004 Superliner I
Sightseer Lounge -
Rebuilt Beach Grove 1985
34069 Superliner I Coach
31005 Superliner I Coach/Baggage
32026 Superliner I Sleeper
No MHC's or roadrailers.
I continued past my sleeper to get the baggage and the engine numbers. While I was writing down
the Transition Sleeper and the baggage car numbers, an Amtrak employee came up to me to see what I was
doing. He looked as though he might be some sort of supervisor based upon the way he was dressed,
but I'm not really sure. All I know is that he had an Amtrak name tag and a radio. He politely
told me that passengers weren't allowed up here and asked me if I was riding this train.
I apologized and told him that I was not aware that I wasn't allowed to go up and look at the
engine, while showing him my ticket stub. He told me not to worry, that there was no way that I
could have known that I was in an off limits area. I wasn't quite sure how a platform intended
for passengers to board a train could be off limits, even if I was a little past the section of
the train with the passenger cars. However since I was aware of the heightened security since
9/11, I didn't argue with him.
I did explain that I was merely trying to write down the consist numbers; so he offered to
escort me to the head end so that I could accomplish my mission. Along the way he asked what I
planned to do with the numbers, so I explained how I would be writing this story and that many
people enjoy knowing what equipment I had seen. He seemed somewhat surprised that there was
actually a place on the Internet to post Amtrak travel stories, let alone that people actually
like to keep track of what equipment had shown up where and for what run.
By now we had reached the end of the MHC, so I again stopped to write down that number
while my escort read me the engine numbers. A minute later along came CJ and he promptly climbed
up into the engine to ready it for our departure. The worker then walked me back to the area
of my sleeping car before saying goodbye. I thanked him again for his courtesy in allowing me
to accomplish my mission and shook his hand.
Next I showed my ticket stub to my new car attendant Marcie, and started to climb aboard the
sleeper "Washington" TSN 5800 to head for Room C, my new home for the next 19 hours.
Before I could get through the door, the person ahead of me turned to Marcie to tell her that
the person ahead of her had just dropped her full cup of soda on the floor.
Marcie quickly scrambled around me and jumped onboard, took a look at the mess, and asked the
two of us to wait a minute. She then ran to the shower changing room and grabbed a couple of
towels to throw on the floor temporarily until she could clean up the mess later. Marcie then
let us on board, and after stepping over the mess, I then headed upstairs to settle into my
Shortly after I finished settling into my room, we pulled out of Union station right on the
advertised at 1:55 PM. A few minutes after departure, I slipped downstairs for a quick shower,
since there had been no hot water earlier that morning on the Sunset Limited sleeper. After my
shower as I went to leave, Marcie was out in the hall trying to wash up the soda spill from
She asked if I knew that I had a shower in my room, and I told her that I did indeed know
that. I told her however, that the main shower downstairs is so much bigger by comparison. She
agreed with that and said that she also would have come downstairs to the larger shower.
Returning upstairs to my room, I could see that we were out of New Orleans by now and running
on a spillway through another Louisiana Bayou. Only a few minutes after returning to my room at 2:35
PM, we were forced to stop when a defect detector informed us that we were dragging equipment.
Our conductor, Ronnie, was forced to walk the length of the train.
A few minutes later he informed CJ that the main reservoir hose was dragging, but that he had
managed to secure it once again. In the meantime the dispatcher was calling CJ to see what was
happening as we were blocking the main. After a 5-minute or so delay, we were once again on our
We however didn't get too far before we were forced to take a siding at North Manchee, to
clear for a freight train. Had we not been forced to stop for the dragging equipment problem,
we would have met this freight train further north of here in a double track area. Then just to
add insult to injury, we were then forced to wait for another 15 minutes because a bridge just
past where we were stopped for the meet had opened for a boat to pass. While we were stopped, I
walked through the train taking a few pictures of the car interiors.
Finally underway again, we had smooth running until we reached Hammond, LA at 3:39 PM. This
had us running 39 minutes down thanks to the dragging hose and the open bridge. Shortly after
Hammond, the dining car steward came by to make dinner reservations. I choose the 6:30 seating,
as 5:00 is way to early for me to eat dinner.
I found that most of the detectors along this route still broadcast their former owner's name
Illinois Central (IC) and not the name of their new owner
Canadian National. Perhaps
most interesting was that the detector's all finished their broadcasts with either "Have a safe
trip" or "Have a good trip".
McComb, MS came and went at 4:30 PM, leaving us running 37 minutes off the schedule. As we
left McComb, a station worker called the train to ensure that the conductor knew that a handicapped
person in a wheel chair would be boarding at the next stop, Brookhaven. This would require spotting
the sleeper precisely in front of the station.
We arrived next at Brookhaven, MS at 4:50 PM. CJ and Ronnie (the conductor) managed to put
the sleeper precisely in front of the handicapped lady. With Ronnie, Marcie,
and someone from the station all helping; they were able to board the lady onto the train rather
We left shortly after that at 4:53 PM still inching closer to the schedule now only 34
minutes late. Sadly that was as close as we were going to get to the schedule for a while, as we
went into the hole (a siding) at 5:01 PM just north of Brookhaven, to wait for a southbound freight. We sat
here for 28 minutes until 5:29 PM before we started moving again.
Our next stop would have been Hazlehurst, MS. This however is a flag stop and since there
was no one detraining nor anyone boarding, we blew right through the station at track speed. It
was 5:41 PM as we rolled through, so we were now running 58 minutes down.
We pulled into Jackson, MS at 6:21 PM, having made up a little time. We were now 37 minutes
off the advertised. We also lost our wonderful engineer, CJ, at this stop; in fact I was able to
see him walking down the platform.
Shortly after leaving Jackson, I headed down to the diner for my dinner. I was seated
promptly, and a few minutes later two guys on their way to Los Angles joined me. Although one
of them had been born here in America, they were living in Argentina, and were using Amtrak
to travel our country.
They had started out in Florida coming west on the Sunset Limited prior to the one that I had used
to reach New Orleans. They would switch at Chicago to the Zephyr taking that to Emeryville, after
an overnight stay in Chicago. From there they would work their way down to Los Angeles. Once in
Los Angeles they were going to house sit for about a month for a friend.
We talked some about traveling on Amtrak, and visiting America and their journey so far. I
ordered the fish special, which once again was Catfish.˙Just like the night before on the
Sunset, it was tasty and fresh. Tonight I decided on rice instead of the baked potato and once
again the vegetable was waxed beans. Amtrak must have gotten a special on waxed beans, as that's
all I saw during my trip. I washed all of that down with glasses of Chardonnay and water.
Once again I followed dinner up with another piece of strawberry topped cheesecake. At some
point during dinner we must have passed by the flag stop at Yazoo City, MS. However since we did not
stop and the crew did not mention it's passing over the radio, I have no idea when we went by the
I had already returned from dinner to my room and was sipping the rest of my wine when we
pulled into Greenwood at 8:14 PM. We were still running 37 minutes late, but at least we hadn't
lost any more time. Marcie came by at around 9:30 or so to see if I wanted her to make up my bed
yet. Since my body was still operating on Eastern Standard time, even though I was in the
Central time zone, I told her to go ahead and ready the room for nighttime. I then stepped
into the hall to get out of her way.
Marcie quickly and efficiently setup my bed for me and was on her way to the next room in
less than three minutes. I settled back into my room sitting on the bed, while continuing to
work on my computer. Around 10:30 PM CST, I decided that it was late enough, and headed off to sleep
since it still felt like 11:30 PM to me.