Atlanta - New Orleans and Return
August 9-20, 2003
Betty and I left Blue Ridge for the 100 mile trip to Atlanta on the evening of the 7th of Aug. We were spending the night with our friends Ron and Jackie Brooks in North Atlanta to avoid having to drive 2 hours on the morning of Aug. 9 to make our 9:18am departure time.
We left their home at 8:00am the following morning for the 30 minute drive to the station. They were going to keep our car until we returned and meet us when we returned.
Before we left their house I called "Julie" (Amtrak's automated phone system) for a train status. She said that #19 was running 28 minutes late but should make up some time before Atlanta. I kidded Betty that there was a girl I could fall for because she knew all about trains.
I will say that Atlanta is one of the worst stations in the Amtrak system. Two flights of stairs to descend and the length of the train to walk for boarding. Knowing this we planned to check most of our baggage and keep only a small carry on. When we arrived at the station at 8:40, they were announcing that this was the last call for checked baggage. This was 36 minutes before scheduled departure time. There were only two agents in the station and they had to get all of the checked baggage down stairs on a freight elevator and on baggage carts on the lower level.
A couple arrived about five minutes after us and was not allowed to check two large roll around bags through to New Orleans.
Number 19, the south bound Crescent, arrived in Atlanta at 9:09, 11 minutes late. Then started the Atlanta shuffle, which occurs twice a day. There is only one set of stairs down to the station platform. The Drill is to allow passengers to use the stairs for arrival first. The freight elevator is used to bring handicapped passengers up, then to take others down. The baggage carts are taken to the train and unloaded and loaded with inbound baggage while this is going on. Then the outbound passengers are allowed to use the stairs to go down to platform level. There was quite a large number of arriving and departing passengers and getting up and down the narrow stairs with baggage was not fun. I could only feel for the couple with the large bags. Most of the other passengers had one or more bags also and you were lucky if you didn't get bumped on the way down.
The consist of #19 this morning was:
Engines 754-752 Sleeper Lake View Sleeper Eagle View Diner 2809 Lounge car Coach 25070 Coach 25041 Coach 25098 (our coach) An empty coach Baggage car Express car
All of the New Orleans passengers were put in the coach that we were in and we gained people at every stop. There were only about 10 passengers in our coach when we left Atlanta and it was about half full when we got to New Orleans.
We departed Atlanta at 9:38, 20 minutes late. This is a Saturday and there should not be too much freight traffic so we may make up some time.
Just west of the Atlanta station we come to a stop at Howell junction. This is where the CSX crosses NS. On the scanner I hear the NS dispatcher trying to talk to a CSX freight to determine if he is clear of Howell. It is several minutes before the CSX train answers and verifies that he is clear.
During this time our Car Attendant hands out pillows to everyone in the coach. She proves to be one of the best Car Attendants that I have seen.
At 9:54 we are moving again -- so much for making up time. We are running in CTC territory and make a running meet with a UP powered Stack Train at De Armanville, just east of Anniston AL. We arrive at Anniston at 11:11 down by 31 minutes.
We leave Anniston and pass the Anniston Army Depot on the right side. This is an interesting site with many tracks for receiving and loading heavy army equipment, including M80 tanks. Because of the war in Iraq there is not much activity at the depot.
Passing Lincoln, at 1135, the dispatcher tells us that we will be following a freight to Leeds and we start to pick up a string of approach signals so we slow so as to not have to stop. We and the freight meet a UP powered empty auto rack train in a siding. We also pass a large new Honda plant that has a new loading yard under construction.
The dispatcher tells us that a detector has picked up a malfunction on the freight in front of us and he is stopping to check the train. The dispatcher also asks us to stop at Prescott to pickup a NS employee. We stop and pick up what looks like a track inspector. While we are doing this the freight has finished checking the train and gets into the siding at Leeds so that we can get by.
Betty and I go to the diner for lunch and have a really good Beef Pot Pie each. We stop in Birmingham while at lunch at 1:00. Our stop lasts 13 minutes and we leave at 1:13 down by 34 minutes.
At 1:42 we meet #20, the north bound Crescent, at Bessemer.
At 2:27 we make a 2 minute stop at Tuscaloosa, 40 minutes down, leaving at 2:29.
At 3:00 the scanner brings this news from the dispatcher, "#19 plan on being at Livingston about 30 minutes. A local has everything down south tied up. Switching took longer than they thought." Livingston is about 60 miles south of Tuscaloosa.
The miles between were a display of the way that a dispatcher works. At 3:04 we get an advance approach signal which causes us prepare to slow down. At 3:10 we get an approach signal at Bernal, which causes us to slow down and prepare to stop. At 3:11 we get a stop at Boligee and stop.
At 3:17 we are moving again with a clear signal at Boligee. At 2:31 we get an approach signal at Parker followed at 3:36 by a stop signal at Livingston. It is clear that the dispatcher gave us every inch of railroad that he could while the freight worked out its problems. This was on a single track railroad.
At 3:44 the mixed freight rolls by northbound and we get a clear at Livingston. All of this takes place in CTC territory and without any spoken directions.
At 4:20 we stop at Meridian, 52 minutes down, for an operations crew change and are on our way again at 4:24.
At Meridian we leave CTC territory and will be in track warrant territory till we enter NOL yard territory.
At 5:25 we stop at Laurel, 1 hour down, for a 4 minute stop. While stopped we receive this track warrant. "Number 19 meet NS9785 at Dragon, hold main." We depart Laurel at 5:29.
At 5:48 NS 9785 calls us and reports that he is in the clear at Dragon siding. We roll by on the main without even slowing down.
At 5:58 we stop at Hattiesburg, 1 hour and 3 minutes down. During our stop we receive another track warrant for the next section of track. We are to hold the main to Woods, meet NS 8836 at Derby and meet UP 2370 at Wolf. We leave Hattiesburg at 6:04.
We meet both of the freights in this track warrant without slowing down. One of the rare cases, of good dispatching, where the passenger train is given the right-of-way over freights.
At 7:06 we make a one minute stop at Picayune now down by 1hr 10 minutes, and make our final en route stop at Slidell, 1 hour and 8 minutes late.
At about sundown we crossed the east side of Lake Pontchartrain then through the eastern part of New Orleans.
We pull by the station and then back past the Superdome coming to a stop at 8:32. Thanks to padding we were only 42 minutes late.
When we got off we walked to the station between two Superliner consists: the city of New Orleans consist for the next morning and the Sunset consist which was being truncated at NOL due to track work to the east.
We were met by our son Donald, who had flown in from Tampa that afternoon. We were to spend the next few days exploring the Gulf Cost of Louisiana and Texas and visiting a friend in Houston. Don had a rental car waiting for us and had us checked into a hotel room for the night.
The morning of August 22nd found Don dropping us off at the NOL station at 6:50am for our return trip. We had stopped at the station the evening before to check our luggage. That way we did not have to be at the station 45 minutes before departure time to check the bags.
As we board I note that the consist behind Engines #45 and #48 was the same as we had on the way down except there was only one sleeper. We were also boarding passengers into the coach which was empty on the way down. All Atlanta passengers were put in our coach.
At about five minutes before departure I heard the engineer call Clark Street tower for permission to leave on time and this was approved.
At 7:20 we depart NOL on time. Again through East New Orleans and across the east side of Lake Pontchartrain. We pass a freight in the hole at Woods, with no delay and stop at Slidell 3 minutes late. We depart under a 10 MPH slow order for crossing signal work in N. Slidell.
At 8:40 we get an Approach signal which clears just as we get to it. We stop anyway to copy orders and are given the main to Picayune. We stop at Picayune at 8:45 down by 9 minutes. Here we receive the main to Laurel.
At 9:53 we stop at Hattiesburg down by 13 minutes.
At 10:26 we are at Laurel down by 12 minutes. We receive orders to meet NS 6590 at Basic. At 11:08 NS 6590 reports in the clear at Basic and we pass with no delay.
At 11:35 we stop at Meridian, 19 minutes down, for an operations crew change. Here I note several passengers boarding the coach on the rear. After we leave one of the passengers from the back coach comes forward to our coach and inquires where the diner is. In talking to him I find out that one of the sleepers in this consist was bad ordered at Washington on the way down and set out. The passengers in the back coach are the sleeper passengers that were supposed to be in the missing sleeper. Their sleeper for this trip is a coach in which they are assigned 2 seats, given a pillow and blankets and free food in the diner. Of course they were refunded their sleeper fare. Some of them canceled and took a later train. Some were accommodated in the other sleeper and the rest were in the coach.
Even though we really have not had any delays we are 29 minutes late at Tuscaloosa arriving at 1:19.
We went to the diner before the arrival at Tuscaloosa and again the beef pot pie was the thing to have.
At 1:39 we meet #19 in a running meet with no loss of time.
At Birmingham we have made up all of the time except 16 minutes and we leave only 14 minutes late.
At the new Honda plant we encounter a lot of track work as they lay the new leads for the large new yard. We make several stops at signals which are not working and the dispatcher has to give permission to pass the signal. This along with a slow order costs us some time.
We arrive at Anniston at 4:22pm, 22 minutes late.
We can never gain all of this time back and we arrive in Atlanta 10 minutes late.
Again we take part in the Atlanta shuffle. We get off and go to the station; our baggage is unloaded and parked off to the side. The new passengers and their baggage are loaded. The train departs and then our baggage is brought up. It is about 45 minutes after arrival that we get our bags. While we are waiting an opportunity to do a good deed presents itself.
At the stop in Birmingham a middle aged couple got on. We found out that it was his birthday. He had never ridden a train before. His wife gave him a trip to Atlanta for the weekend for his present. They ask us where the MARTA station is in relation to the train station. We tell them that MARTA does not go anywhere near the Amtrak station. They appear shocked at this and say that they were told, when they made there reservations by phone, that the Atlanta station was served by MARTA. They had reservations at a hotel in Smyrna. This is a suburb of Atlanta about 20 miles northwest of the station. In trying to figure out why they were told that MARTA served the station it dawned that the Atlanta bus service is also called MARTA. It was possible to get to Smyrna by bus but it would take several transfers one of which would be to another county's bus system. We were going in the general direction of Smyrna so we offered to drop them off at their hotel. They were very grateful and planned to take a taxi back to the station at the end of their stay.
After we let them off we started the two hour drive to Blue Ridge.
It was a very enjoyable trip and was over new mileage for me.