Riding the Rails
Amtrak's Sunset Limited
New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal
Infrogmation of New Orleans, Creative Commons license 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
I cannot pretend to know very much about what it is like to ride the Sunset Limited, for I have ridden it only between New Orleans and Houston. I can tell you a bit about that, though.
First of all, be sure to schedule a day for looking around before you start your trip. I had the cab driver take me out St. Charles Avenue, where I discovered a history of architecture. At the city end, at Poydras, the architecture was Cajun / Creole, very simple. As the drive continued, we progressed past Georgian, through Greek Revival, past Victorian, and finally to the myriad of styles of the 20th century. Can you believe it? All that on one street! Second, be sure to visit the French Quarter, particularly to hear the Dixieland Jazz bands and to tour the antique shops on Bourbon Street. By all means, stop in the Cafe du Monde on Decatur Street to try out the beignets. I could go on, but this is about the Sunset Limited, not the city of New Orleans (no pun intended). On to the train!
The Sunset Limited departs from the Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue. Its murals depicting the Cajun / Creole heritage of the area are beautiful! Take the time to study each one. The artist was very talented! Boarding takes place right outside the terminal. There are no steps to contend with, although the hike down the platform is quite lengthy.
One doesn't see very much of New Orleans, for almost as soon as the train passes the Superdome and the maintenance railyard, it turns toward the Mississippi River. There, it crosses the Huey P. Long Bridge. It's a tall and long bridge and affords the rail traveler an awe-inspiring glimpse of large ships and long trains of barges as they make their way between the mouth of the river, at the Gulf of Mexico, and Baton Rouge, the northern point at which the ships can travel.
When the rails return to dry land, they make their way toward the swamps and bayous of the Atchafalaya Basin. When I rode this route, the tracks were secondary, at best, causing the tall Superliner cars to sway more than I would have liked. I do not know what condition they are in, now. On the other side of the swamps, the train passes through quaint towns along Bayou Teche, then across delta land to Lake Charles. From there, it travels through the southernmost reaches of the Piney Woods of East Texas before it enters ranch lands leading to the more coastal lands near Houston.
It's an interesting trip, even as far as that. I wouldn't mind taking it again. Those who have traveled the full route to Los Angeles can tell far better tales than I can.