Florida-New Orleans-Chicago Trip 2003
April 16-27, 2003
Our trip was very slow, mainly due to the heavy boarding as we progressed along St. Charles. Things were so slow that I realized we were not going to be able to safely go to the end of the line and return, and still have time to eat lunch. I decided that at some point we would have to bail out and return on the next inbound car. As we got further into the Garden District, I waited until I saw a streetcar coming in the opposite direction a few blocks away. Then I pulled the buzzer, and we got off and crossed over the tracks to wait for the approaching car.
The location was St. Charles and Third Street. We've been to the end of this line before, so it was not a necessity that we go any further. At least we got to ride parts of both streetcar lines during our brief time in the city.
Well we went out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak. When the Canal-bound car arrived it was standing room only already. We had to stand this time. Michael eventually got a seat, while I stood near him. There was no place to move in the aisles. I began to worry that we would not be able to get off at Lee Circle, which is the closest stop to NOUPT, where Howard meets Loyola. As the car rounded the circle and began to head lakebound on Howard Street one block to Carondelet, I pulled the buzzer. We then had to make our way to the back door. The operator could not see us, and he almost left before we could get through the crowd to the back door. We finally made it, and were glad to be off that old sardine can.
Part 21: Lunch in New Orleans
Howard Street has some tracks and catenary that resembles those found along St. Charles, but except for the St. Charles Streetcars in one direction, they are not used on Howard. Maybe they were at one time. Once we got beyond Carondelet, where the streetcars turn right towards Canal, we headed straight on the neutral ground, until its grassy area ended. We then walked on the sidewalk the last couple of blocks to Loyola, in sight of Union Passenger Terminal. Then we turned right and headed towards the shopping mall that is near the Superdome.
We walked past a large post office facility, and then towards the Superdome. As we were walking, we heard a loud horn that was unmistakably that of a P-42. The time was 12:14, and it was the westbound SUNSET LIMITED, the very train on which we had arrived, finally preparing to leave. That loud blast was either an all-clear signal, or a you-better-board-or-else-wait-three-days signal. At 12:15 PM we heard the familiar two toots, and the train departed from NOUPT for Texas and ultimately California.
By this time we had reached the mall, called surprisingly the New Orleans Centre. We found the food court on the street level. I had my favorite baked ziti & meatballs from Sbarro and Michael just had a slice of pizza. When we were done it was 12:55 PM. Our train would be leaving in exactly one hour. It was time to return to NOUPT, which was three blocks away.
Back at the station, the place was now full of fellow passengers waiting for the departure of the CITY OF NEW ORLEANS. My first order of business was to retrieve our suitcases. While Michael found two seats for us, I went out to the track area, where there was supposed to be somebody available to give me back the luggage that was being held. I found no activity, just a locked door. I went back into the station and began to stand on a line at the AMTRAK ticket counter where I had dropped off the bags in the morning. John, the fellow railfan who we had met on the SUNSET LIMITED, had seen my actions and he told me that I could avoid standing on the line, by going back outside to the track area and finding one of the baggage guys. We finally found the right person sitting on a golf cart. He was a big help to me; he told me to knock on the locked door I had found earlier. Somebody was in fact inside, and soon I was wheeling two suitcases back into the waiting room.
Part 22: The CITY OF NEW ORLEANS, Train 58(25), New Orleans, LA to Chicago, IL
By now, it was about 1:15 PM. Boarding would no doubt begin taking place soon. I noticed that there seemed to be quite a few handicapped people in the station, with various broken legs and arms. I don't know if they were some group traveling together, but obviously I did not think it was out of place that they began to line up at the gate for the train. Naturally, those needing more help in boarding should be allowed to board first, just as it is done in Washington and Chicago. However, when the other people waiting saw this, they began to line up as well. Nobody had announced that passengers should line up, so Michael and I remained in our seats, even when the line began to snake around the back of the station. Everyone was going on the same train, and I felt no need to stand on a line after all the walking we had done in the past five hours. Some people are amazing creatures; I see little difference between them and a cattle roundup on a large farm -- they just follow the animal in front of them.
When the initial boarding announcements were made, First Class passengers (along with the mobility-impaired group) were allowed to board first. So now all the coach passengers gathering at the door were in the way of the First Class passengers, who were slowly making their way from the Magnolia Room, located across the waiting room near the side door of the station building. To those who did form a line: I hope you are proud of yourselves, folks, because all it did was make the simple, organized task of boarding passengers take more time.
When the boarding of coach passengers began, they began letting people through by destination, not by where they were on line. A conductor came down the line and asked where people were going, and then directed that group to the correct coach. While this could have been done at trainside, perhaps it created less confusion for the coach attendants who were standing outside the doors of the train, in that they could seat people and not have to worry about putting people in the correct coaches. Those going to Chicago, as we were, represented the largest and last group of passengers to board, but with all the others weeded out, by the time we actually joined the line we were almost near the front.
Chicago-bound passengers were placed in the rear coach, which was also the last car of the train. After not waiting on line, we probably had one of the shortest walks anyhow for the boarding passengers. At trainside, we met our coach attendant, Daphne. She told us where to sit, and we quickly went upstairs and found our seats. By now it was about 1:40 PM. I decided that since the New Orleans station is not particularly railfan-friendly, I would not get the full consist until later on up the line. I thought that perhaps I could get off in Memphis since there was some dwell time there, or else I could do it upon arrival in Chicago the next morning. Since we planned to use the dining car on this trip, I figured I would get most of the numbers anyhow from the inside, save for the engine, baggage car, and sleepers.
As you will find out, I did not get our full consist until we arrived in Chicago. But for convention purposes, this is how the train looked:
201 P-42 locomotive 1246 Baggage 39011 Superliner II Transition Dorm/Sleeper 32051 Superliner I sleeper "Capitol Reef" 38035 Superliner II diner 33033 Superliner II Sightseer Lounge 31590 Superliner I coach/smoker 35010 Superliner I coach/snack (snack bar not used) 34097 Superliner I coach <- * * We were here
Just as the CITY OF NEW ORLEANS began to roll (about one minute early at 1:54 PM by my watch), we heard the departure announcements from the crew, and from Daphne. The speakers in our coach were working! I would come to regret that fact, believe it or not, by the end of our trip.
Our entire trip would be on the tracks of Canadian National Illinois Central Railroad (CNIC). It would all be new trackage for us, except for the immediate station areas in New Orleans and Chicago.
By 2:08 we were passing through suburban Metairie, LA. To our left I saw a long double-stack freight sitting on another mainline track waiting to enter the track on which we were traveling. Where it was sitting is the ramp that leads onto the Huey Long Bridge, over which the SUNSET LIMITED crosses the Mississippi River on its way to and from western Louisiana, Texas, and ultimately California.
We soon passed on our right the large Louis Armstrong International Airport. At 2:17 PM, we heard our first of many, many announcements by our lounge car attendant, Monty. He described the fact that he was in a Superliner II lounge car, which takes longer to prepare for service than a Superliner I lounge car. My feeling, Monty, is that if this is so, you should therefore have arrived at your Superliner II lounge car earlier (well before the passengers would be boarding) in order to best serve your customers.
At 2:19 PM, 25 minutes into our trip, we began to cross water. At first, we appeared to be moving at our maximum speed, as we were going faster than vehicles on the adjacent freeway. Monty got on the speaker and told us we would be going slowly at times through this area, known as the Bonnie Carrie Spillway. While we were crossing the spillway, which is designed to take excess water when the Mississippi River crests upriver in the Midwest to alleviate flood conditions, the rather large Lake Pontchartrain was off to our right. There was a little water at this time in the spillway itself but most parts of it were dry and grassy. When it is not full of floodwaters, people use it as a recreational park.
Having crossed the spillway, but still passing the massive lake to our right, we sped up once more at 2:27 PM. We were now facing due north, having curved gradually from running west around the southern portion of the lake. At times we crossed underneath I-55, and also its local counterpart, U.S. 51.
At 2:54 PM, now beyond the lake, we passed through the town of Ponchatoula, LA. That was followed six minutes later by our first station stop, Hammond, LA. I don't know what made me think of doing it here, but I decided to give a call to Mike Hammond in Cleveland to let him know we were on the way on Train 58 and we'd see him in the morning. I left him a message on his cell phone. We pulled out of Hammond two minutes down.
According to the timetable, we should have passed the southbound CITY OF NEW ORLEANS, Train 59(24) somewhere between New Orleans and Hammond. Since I did not see it, I called Julie the AMTRAK Robot and found out that it was running about four hours late. Ouch. I calculated that we would meet it around Brookhaven, MS.
Our dining car attendant, Tiffany, addressed us at 3:15 PM, saying she would be coming through the train taking dinner reservations. She said there would be seatings at 5:00, 6:30, and 8:00. This time we wanted to partake of dinner in the dining car, so I was quite afraid we would end up with an undesirable late seating because we were in the very last car of the train.
Meanwhile, we were passing through the town of Amite, LA at 3:19 PM. Tiffany had worked her way through the train surprisingly quickly, and by the time she got to us the 6:30 reservations were no longer available. We wanted 5:00 anyhow, so we were in luck. Tiffany did not give us anything with which to prove we had a 5:00 reservation, and she did not take our names; it was basically on the honor system.Continued in next section