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My Amtrak Experience: The Epic "City of New Orleans" Journey

Updated on July 2, 2017
Amtrak observation carriage
Amtrak observation carriage | Source

My Amtrak train journey from Memphis to New Orleans was unlike any I'd ever experienced, to the point where I found myself compelled to tell people about it.

Now I'm telling you.

“The City of New Orleans” train line departs from Chicago in the North and winds down through the Mid West to its final destination, New Orleans.

Nicknamed, “The Chicken Bone Express” due to to the high number of passengers who would take a packed lunch, or even dinner on their 934 mile Amtrak journey.

City of New Orleans train route map
City of New Orleans train route map | Source

It was an early start; the 6 am departure from Memphis Central Station was the only train running between my location and New Orleans.

The journey was scheduled to take nine hours, a similar time difference between Brighton and Dundee. The price was $60 (£40). Incidentally, the price between the two British cities ranges from £150-£175 ($195-$227) on therainline.com.

I picked up my ticket at the station; free coffee was provided with members of staff directing people to the platform.

There was multi-national feel to the 70-year-old terminal, with accents from Portugal, Japan, Canada and Britain filling the air.

When the train pulled into the station, it was a great sight, double decker carriages with seat upstairs and storage, changing and restroom facilities on the bottom.

Amtrak train waiting to depart Memphis Central
Amtrak train waiting to depart Memphis Central | Source

The atmosphere when entering the carriage was very jovial, people from Chicago, New York and Detroit, all halfway through their mammoth journey, of which mine was just beginning.

There was no shortage of help for people who were struggling with their luggage and stories of people visiting friends and loved one's in the South were plentiful.

The seating was excellent, large, blue padded with enough room to recline without intruding on the person behind, with pull down foot rests and table for extra comfort and practicality.

The seats were twice as big as the one's available in the UK, and more comfortable too.
The seats were twice as big as the one's available in the UK, and more comfortable too. | Source

As the train rumbled on into Mississippi, I was informed that food was available a few carriages down. I was hungry and being English, I was of course, willing to queue at what I thought would be a food and beverage trolley.

In keeping with my experience so far, a little trolley with a few sandwiches and packets of crisps to choose from wasn't going to be very “American”.

It was always going to be bigger and better than that.

The Amtrak Snack Car
The Amtrak Snack Car | Source

I entered what is known as the 'Observation Carriage', a single carriage surrounded by Perspex glass with seats facing outwards to enable passengers to take in the scenery while travelling.

It was full of people having a drink, both soft and alcoholic and sharing anecdotes, political views, just having a really good time.

Downstairs was the Café and a huge selection of hot and cold food including, Pizza's, Hotdogs, Hamburgers and Bagels, with prices ranging from $4-8 (£2.60-£5) and $2-$6.50 (£1.30-£4.20) for drinks.

There were also soft seats with a proper table to eat from, no need to carry the food back my seat to eat from a tiny table.

Fully stocked and heading into Jackson, the state capital of Mississippi, there was a slight change of plan.

Source

Engine trouble meant a three-hour delay, and everyone was evacuating the carriage, the nine-hour journey just turned into twelve.

Unseasonably high water flanked the entrance into New Orleans, the effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, still very much evident. Having to wait a bit longer for a train didn't seem like such a big deal anymore.

Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, while the water level wasn't as high as in this image, it was still apparent on the outskirts of the city at the time I visited
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, while the water level wasn't as high as in this image, it was still apparent on the outskirts of the city at the time I visited | Source

As water gave way to concrete, it was evident the journey was coming to an end with a warm and pleasant evening greeting me at New Orleans Union Station, which was a fitting metaphor for my first Amtrak experience.

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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 months ago

      I have always wanted use the Amtrak on a vacation and now you have given me another look at the great service. I will have to give it another look next year.

    • rbenjamin profile image
      Author

      Ryan Benjamin 3 months ago from Nottingham, UK

      Thanks for the positive comments Dora, on this and my Memphis Hub, much appreciated.

      Bernie - It's a very comfortable way of travelling around the States, even if it does take a bit longer. I was on a budget and I'd already experience the Greyhound Coach, this is easily the better of the two.

    • apackedlife profile image

      Bernie Jackson 3 months ago from Birmingham, UK

      We were in Tennessee and Mississippi last October, and I wish we'd had time to do this. Definitely something to add into future plans. I didn't realise just how inexpensive it is without the sleeper element.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 months ago from The Caribbean

      You're really good on these travel articles, pictures and all. Thanks for another good share.