Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans’

Officials Optimistic About Gulf Rail Restoration

April 13, 2017

Amtrak and members of the Southern Rail Commission are expressing optimism that intercity rail service will be restored to the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans.

During a meeting in Mobile, Alabama, they said that efforts to restore Amtrak service lost in August 2005 following Hurricane Katrina are close to being realized despite the proposal by the Trump administration to gut funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

“When we look at the situation of where we are, we are closer now than we have ever been over the course of the last 12 years,” said Thomas Stennis III, Amtrak’s director of government affairs south.

Stennis urged residents of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida to ask their respective members of Congress to reject President Donald Trump’s proposed budget. “I cannot urge that enough,” he said.

Although neither Amtrak nor the Commission has provided any details about how the service would be funded or when it might be restored, Stennis said that Amtrak CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman supports the restoration of service to the line once served by the Sunset Limited.

Nos. 1 and 2 continue to operate tri-weekly between New Orleans and Los Angeles.

One proposal to serve the Gulf Coast has the daily City of New Orleans operating east of its namesake city.

During a meeting in Mobile, officials estimated that 154,000 passengers would use the proposed New Orleans to Mobile segment annually.

Knox Ross, a Mississippi Commissioner of the SRC, said that negotiations with CSX, which owns the rail line that would be used have been difficult.

“We are working very hard to come up with a number,” said Knox. “It’s a hard negotiation because we are working on their railroad and they own it and they wanna make money.”

Knox said Amtrak matched the $125,000 appropriated by the City of Mobile to carry out necessary upgrades to its station.

He said similar deals could be worked out with other cities along the Gulf Coast city stations that require upgrades, said Knox.

Southern Rail Commission Sets Tour to Seek Support for Gulf Passenger Service Revival

April 12, 2017

The Southern Rail Commission will be making stops this week in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi in an effort to drum up support for the resumption of intercity rail passenger service along the Gulf Coast.

One idea being proposed would be to extend Amtrak’s City of New Orleans east of its namesake city to Orlando, Florida.

Service between New Orleans and Orlando was once provided by the Sunset Limited, but was dropped after Hurricane Katrina damaged the route in August 2005.

The Commission is also eyeing institution of a daily train between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, or Atmore, Alabama.

A study of restoration of service is currently being made that will show what capital improvements and operating support are needed to support the resumption of service.

CN Track Work to Disrupte SB CONO Schedule

April 3, 2017

The schedule of the southbound City of New Orleans will change between April 3 and May 19 in order to accommodate Canadian National track work.

In a service advisory Amtrak said No. 59 will depart Jackson, Mississippi, at 1:20 p.m., which is two hours later than the normal schedule.

Departure times at all stations between Jackson and New Orleans will be two hours later.

The modified schedule will be in effect on the following dates:

 

  • April 3 through April 14
  • April 17 through April 28
  • May 1 through May 12
  • May 15 through May 19

Train 59 will operate on its normal schedule from Chicago to Jackson. The operations of northbound No. 58 will not be affected.

Transition Time in New Orleans

February 3, 2017

noupt-december-13-1978

It is a time of transition for Amtrak at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal although that is not necessarily apparent in this image.

A year earlier the Chicago-New Orleans Panama Limited began showing up with a consist of Amfleet equipment. That was the first sign that Amtrak was moving to head-end power.

But the New York-New Orleans Crescent still has steam-heated equipment as does the the Los Angeles-New Orleans Sunset Limited.

I am at NOUPT on a December morning in 1978 to ride the Crescent to Washington, D.C. All of the station tracks visible in this image contain streamliner era equipment.

Some of that equipment will be rebuilt for HEP and last into the early 2000s as part of Amtrak’s Heritage Fleet, but much of it will be retired from Amtrak service.

The rolling stock that can be seen wears the Phase I livery that Amtrak applied used in the early 1970s. That will soon be giving way to a slightly new look.

But only those who follow the affairs of Amtrak closely will recognize that what they are seeing is the final years of an era.

FRA Grants Raise Hopes that New Rail Service is Getting Closer to Coming to Fruition

December 22, 2016

The allocation this week by the Federal Railroad Administration of $2.5 million for stations improvements has officials in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi hopeful that intercity rail passenger service between New Orleans and Florida, and New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is closer to getting launched.

FRAThe service to Baton Rouge is seen as commuter service, but the service east of the Crescent City would be a restoration of an Amtrak route lost when Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.

Until then, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited operated between Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida, via New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama, and Tallahassee and Jacksonville, Florida.

Three cities, Baton Rouge, Gonzales and LaPlace, will split $350,000 to begin planning for passengers stations on the proposed commuter train route.

The rest of the money will be allocated to cities in Mississippi (Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport and Pascagoula) and Mobile for station development.

Some of the grant money is being distributed to the Alabama cities of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Anniston for station work on the New York-New Orleans Crescent route.

Officials say it will be several years before the New Orleans-Baton Rouge service could start. Funding for the service has yet to be secured.

A study conducted in 2015 estimated the service would cost $6.7 million a year based on annual ridership of 210,000 paying a one-way fare of $10 per trip.

Restoring Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast could happen in 18 to 24 months said John Spain, a Louisiana representatives on the Southern Rail Commission.

Amtrak extended the Sunset Limited to Florida in 1993, operating tri-weekly. State-funded service to portions of the Gulf Coast from New Orleans have come and gone over the years.

The SRC noted in a 2015 report that the Sunset Limited was plagued by poor timekeeping due, in part, to freight train congestion.

Amtrak Expanding Polar Express Trains

October 10, 2016

Amtrak continues to expand its involvement in operating Polar Express trains, this time by offering the service in New Orleans.

Amtrak 3The New Orleans Polar Express will feature half-hour trips Union Passenger Terminal Dec. 10 through Jan. 1 with between two and five daily departures on select days of operation.

Children and their families will hear the story the book The Polar Express by author Chris Van Allsburg.

Amtrak locomotives and rolling stock will be used as the trains traverse downtown New Orleans.
The trips were announced on Oct. 5 and Jamie Ryan, marketing and events manager at Rail Events said they are 90 percent sold out.
Amtrak offered Polar Express trips from Chicago Union Station in 2015 and plans to offer that service again this year.

Those one-hour trips will operate between Dec. 3 and Jan. 1 and are 70 percent sold out.

Rail Events specializes in rail-related special events, including the Polar Express and is a wholly owned subsidiary of American Heritage Railways.

Notes From 2,500 Miles Aboard Amtrak

April 2, 2009
The second seating in the diner of the City of New Orleans is just getting underway as the trains heads north through the Mississippi delta country on March 20, 2009.

The second seating in the diner of the City of New Orleans is just getting underway as the trains heads north through the Mississippi delta country on March 20, 2009.

Just over a week ago, my wife and I returned from an Amtrak trip between our home in  Cleveland and New Orleans. The journey covered more than 2,500 miles and involved riding the Capitol Limited between Cleveland and Chicago, and the City of New Orleans between Chicago and the Big Easy. Here are a few observations about our excursion.

Timekeeping was pretty good on all trains. No. 29 was seven minutes late arriving in Cleveland, but that was largely because the train had to do a run-around move and then back into the station. Arrival in Chicago was 31 minutes early. No. 59 reached New Orleans 48 minutes early and No. 58 halted at Chicago Union Station 15 minutes early. The eastbound Capitol Limited was three minutes late arriving in Cleveland.

To be sure, schedule padding had a lot to do with the early arrivals at the terminal points. No. 59 was late departing every station except Homewood and Jackson. The other three trains were often late at intermediate points, as much as 44 minutes late leaving Newbern on the southbound City of New Orleans.

Granted, I was asleep during many hours of our journeys, but I noted very little freight train interference en route. The longest delay we incurred was when the northbound City of New Orleans sat for a while next to the New Orleans airport waiting for the southbound City to clear the single track ahead.

Upon leaving Memphis on No. 58, I heard the CN dispatcher tell our engineer on the radio that a freight would be in the siding at Tipton and that we might catch up with another freight ahead of us and experience a slight delay. I’m not sure if that was the case or not.

Arguably, it helped that the track work season has yet to start in earnest. There was no severe weather to contend with. We traveled in March and in my experience that’s a good month to ride Amtrak. Perhaps with the recession there are fewer freight trains to get in the way. Still, it seemed that the dispatching provided by the host railroads has improved.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the meal service in the dining cars. Amtrak seems to slowly be upgrading food quality and perhaps the worst of the “diner lite” era is over. On the Capitol Limited to Chicago, I noted that you have something of a choice with the omelet. Last September when I rode the Capitol you had no choice because, I was told, the omelet was made from a mix and you could not leave anything out that you didn’t want.

It was my first experience with the cross country diner on the City of New Orleans and I couldn’t tell any difference in the quality of food or service in this car compared with other Amtrak diners. I did note, though, that the New Orleans style cuisine touted in the Amtrak timetable did not live up to its billing. There was no bread pudding in either direction, no jambalaya or red beans and rice. The menu did feature seafood gumbo, which I did not try.

The diner on the southbound trip did not have the chef’s special of crab cakes. The server claimed that those are put on by the commissary in New Orleans, which had failed to stock the diner well enough for the trip to Chicago and return. The crab cakes were
available on the northbound trip. I found them quite good, accompanied by a very tasty sauce. Sure, the crab cakes were not as good as the one I had in a French  Quarter bistro, but given what Amtrak has to work with that is probably not a fair comparison. It was good enough that I ordered the crab cakes on the Capitol Limited.

For the most part, the menu on the City of New Orleans was the same as that on the Capitol Limited, but with some variation. The City offered a cheddar and broccoli quiche at breakfast that was more like a casserole. It was so good that I ordered it twice. This offering was not available on the Capitol Limited, whose catch of the day at dinner was Mahi Mahi as opposed to salmon on the City of New Orleans. I sampled the salmon on the southbound trip and found it good, although not great. It was enhanced with a nice  sauce and garlic mashed potatoes. The latter tasted like homemade, not instant.

On all four trains, we had diners set up in the new configuration. I’m not sure what to think about this. Yes, it does give the diner a non-traditional look, but if you draw one of the short tables, you wind up sitting with your back to the window. That I didn’t like. Yes, I could see out the window on the opposite side of the car, but that required looking over someone else’s table.
 
I wonder if this new seating arrangement has reduced the capacity of the diner. That did not appear to be much of a problem on the City of New Orleans, but was an issue on the Capitol Limited. Shortly after leaving Chicago, a dining car employee announced he would soon come through the coaches to take dinner reservations with the earliest seating at 9 p.m. The train departs Chicago at 7:05 p.m. Serving begins as early as 6:30 p.m. but sleeping car passengers get first crack at reservations. With three sleepers on the train, there are a lot of first class passengers to feed.

The dining car guy never did come through the coaches to take reservations. When he announced the 9 p.m. seating, he apparently said something about open seating now. We went to the diner and were promptly seated. That the server never came through the coaches was hardly surprising. With just two servers and seatings every half-hour I just didn’t see where there would be time for anyone to break away to the three coaches to take dinner reservations. On nights like these, the diner could use some more help.

If you have not dined on Amtrak lately, they are still using the paper plates and stainless steel silverware with cloth napkins at some meals. This does not appear to compromise the quality of the food much, although real china would be better.

The on-board personnel of the City of New Orleans in particular was friendly and accommodating. There were coach attendants on the Capitol Limited, but they never seemed to be around much and I had no dealing with them. 

New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal has a first class lounge called the Magnolia Room. It is not staffed and you enter it by punching in a code that you must get from the ticket counter. It was a nice lounge, although it does not have enough chairs. Also, if you don’t wish to watch TV you are out of luck.

From my observations, all of the trains were full or near capacity. Although we had sleepers on the City of New Orleans, I heard an announcement as we sat in Chicago that the train was full and that every seat was needed. This was in March on a Monday night.
Presumably, Amtrak would be able to sell more seats during the peak travel season this summer if it has cars to add to the trains.

In summary everything worked out the way that it should. The few glitches that occurred were not significant enough to spoil our enjoyment. We both had a very good trip. This was Amtrak as good as it can be given the resources it has and the conditions under which it must operate these days.