Riding the Rails
Amtrak’s City of New Orleans
The City of New Orleans is seen waiting to leave New Orleans Union Station
(FEMA/Robert Kaufmann via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)
I’ve ridden Amtrak’s City of New Orleans only twice, once a round trip, once a one-way trip. I don’t remember much about the first experience, so I’ll skip that one. The second trip, between Memphis and New Orleans, was very pleasant with only two exceptions.
First, the train no longer goes down the former Illinois Central (now, Canadian National) line between Memphis and Jackson. Instead, it uses the old Yazoo and Mississippi Valley line, making stops in Clarksdale, Greenwood, and Yazoo City, before it rejoins the mainline in Jackson. If you've read "Riding the IC's City of New Orleans," you will understand that the old route holds special meaning for me. In any case, the new route runs through the Mississippi Delta. While once, that was a lush, green land of cotton and soybean fields, today, it lies largely dormant, so much so that trees are taking over the former planting land.
Second is the reason why the train no longer uses the mainline. The track condition is deplorable; in fact, in the area between Crystal Springs and McComb, it is so bad that it should be no more than a secondary line. Granted, the line is used primarily for transporting freight. Even so, if I were shipping goods, I wouldn’t want them exposed to the danger of derailment that such track conditions bring to mind.
Without letting myself get wound up on the subject of Amtrak sharing track usage with the freight companies that own them, let me just say that track condition is a very good reason why Amtrak should lay its own tracks. Another good reason is that new, dedicated passenger tracks would help make high-speed rail travel possible. Enough said.
The most pleasant feature of the journey was the people. They were friendly. They visited among themselves and did not mind if someone they didn’t know joined in the conversation. Livelier travelers gathered in the café car, while quieter ones sat in coach, yet both made the trip highly enjoyable, much more so than I remember the Illinois Central’s City of New Orleans ever being. Of course, the people and the times were quieter in its day.