City of New Orleans (train)

The City of New Orleans is an Amtrak passenger train which operates on an overnight schedule between Chicago and New Orleans. The train is a successor to the Illinois Central Railroad's Panama Limited.

City of New Orleans
FEMA - 20680 - Photograph by Robert Kaufmann taken on 10-10-2005 in Louisiana.jpg
City of New Orleans, October 2005
Service typeInter-city rail
LocaleCentral United States
PredecessorPanama Limited
First serviceApril 27, 1947 (1947-04-27)
Current operator(s)Amtrak
Former operator(s)Illinois Central
Annual ridership155,618 (FY22) Increase 54.4%[a][1]
TerminiChicago, Illinois
New Orleans, Louisiana
Distance travelled934 miles (1,503 km)
Average journey time19 hours, 30 minutes[2]
Service frequencyDaily
Train number(s)58, 59
On-board services
Class(es)Coach Class
Sleeper Service
Disabled accessTrain lower level, all stations
Sleeping arrangements
  • Roomette (2 beds)
  • Bedroom (2 beds)
  • Bedroom Suite (4 beds)
  • Accessible Bedroom (2 beds)
  • Family Bedroom (4 beds)
Catering facilitiesDining car, Café
Observation facilitiesLounge car
Baggage facilitiesOverhead racks
Rolling stockGE Genesis
Siemens Charger
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Operating speed48 mph (77 km/h) (avg.)
79 mph (127 km/h) (top)
Track owner(s)CN

The original City of New Orleans began in 1947 as part of the Illinois Central Railroad, and was the longest daylight run in the United States. The daylight train under that name ran through 1971, when it was moved to an overnight schedule as the Panama Limited. The present name was brought back in 1981, still on an overnight schedule. The train is the subject of the bittersweet 1971 song "City of New Orleans", written by Steve Goodman.

The train operates along a route that has been served in one form or another for over a century. The Panama Limited originally ran from 1911 to 1971, though the IC ran Chicago-New Orleans trains since the turn of the century. Additional corridor service is provided between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois–the northern leg of the route–by the Illini and Saluki.

During fiscal year 2018, the train carried 237,781 passengers, a decrease of 6.9% from FY2017. In FY2016, the train had a total revenue of $18,706,915, a 3.7% decrease from FY2015.


Illinois CentralEdit

IC #4017, an EMD E7, leads the City of New Orleans at Kankakee, Illinois in August 1964.

The Illinois Central Railroad introduced the original City of New Orleans on April 27, 1947. It was a daytime, all-coach companion to the overnight Panama Limited, which had been all-Pullman for most of its run. EMD E7 diesel locomotives pulled new lightweight Pullman Company coaches. The 921-mile (1,482 km) route, which the City of New Orleans covered in 15 hours 55 minutes, was the longest daytime schedule in the United States.[3][4] The City of New Orleans exchanged St. Louis—New Orleans through cars at Carbondale, Illinois and Louisville—New Orleans cars at Fulton, Kentucky. The average speed of the new train was nearly 60 mph (97 km/h) with a maximum of 100 mph (160 km/h); a result of the largely flat route of the Illinois Central along the Mississippi River.[5][6] By October 25, 1959, the timetable had lengthened to 16 hours 30 minutes.[7] The train remained popular throughout the 1960s and gained ex-Missouri Pacific Railroad dome coaches in 1967.[5]


When Amtrak assumed operation of U.S. passenger train service on May 1, 1971, it dropped the Panama Limited in favor of retaining the City of New Orleans on the traditional daytime schedule. Inauspiciously, the City of New Orleans was involved in Amtrak's first fatal derailment on June 10, near Salem, Illinois. Because this train made no connections with other trains at either New Orleans or Chicago, Amtrak moved the train to an overnight schedule on November 14, 1971, and renamed it the Panama Limited.[8]

In February 1981, Amtrak restored the City of New Orleans name while retaining the overnight schedule; Amtrak hoped to capitalize on the popularity of the song written by Steve Goodman and recorded in 1972 by Arlo Guthrie.[9] A Kansas City section, the River Cities, began operation on April 29, 1984. It separated from the City of New Orleans at Centralia, Illinois (later Carbondale) and ran to Kansas City via St. Louis. This section ended on November 4, 1994.[10] The northbound City of New Orleans began stopping at Gilman, Illinois, on October 26, 1986. Gilman had last seen service in 1971; the Illini stopped there as well. Service to Cairo, Illinois, south of Carbondale, ended on October 25, 1987.[11]

Amtrak operated the City of New Orleans reliably through the 1980s and into the 1990s; in 1992, the City of New Orleans had the highest on-time performance rate of all Amtrak services at 87%.[12] Nevertheless, on-board service had declined; Trains magazine editor J. David Ingles called the train "Amtrak's least-glamorous long-distance train".[13] On March 3, 1994, new Superliner cars replaced the single-level cars. Real dining service returned; by the early 1990s an Amfleet dinette had doubled with the lounge car.[14]

On September 10, 1995, the train was rerouted between Memphis and Jackson due to the Illinois Central's desire to abandon the original route (the Grenada District) in favor of the newer and flatter Yazoo District. Five towns in the Mississippi Delta lost service–Batesville, Grenada; Winona; Durant and Canton.[15]

On March 15, 1999, the City of New Orleans collided with a flatbed semi-trailer near Bourbonnais. Of the 217 people aboard the train, eleven people were killed in the Bourbonnais train accident. The fourth car, where the fatalities occurred, was engulfed in flames following the collision at the crossing.[16]

Because of damage in Mississippi and Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina, Amtrak was forced in late August 2005 to truncate the City of New Orleans at Memphis, Tennessee. Service was first restored as far south as Hammond, Louisiana, and on October 8, 2005, Amtrak resumed service to New Orleans.[17] In December 2005 Arlo Guthrie, who helped popularize the song "City of New Orleans", led a fundraiser aboard the City of New Orleans and at several stops along the train's route to help in the hurricane recovery efforts.[18][19]

The train began stopping at Marks, Mississippi on April 4, 2018 following the completion of a new station.[20]

Starting October 1, 2019, traditional dining car services were removed and replaced with a reduced menu of 'Flexible Dining' options.[21]

From October 1, 2020, to May 31, 2021, daily service was reduced to three trains per week due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[22][23]

Route detailsEdit

Amtrak City of New Orleans (interactive map)
In 1995 the City of New Orleans shifted from the Grenada District (blue) to the Yazoo District (red) in northern Mississippi.

Upon Amtrak's creation in 1971, the City of New Orleans was one of four trains that called at Chicago's Central Station, which was originally Illinois Central's terminal in Chicago. All Amtrak trains were consolidated to Union Station by March 1972.[24]

The tracks used were once part of the Illinois Central Railroad system, and are now owned by the Canadian National Railway (CN). The following lines are used:

In its present form, the southbound City of New Orleans leaves Chicago at 8 P.M. in the evening,[25] traveling overnight through southern Illinois and Kentucky for arrival at breakfast time the following morning in Memphis, lunchtime in Jackson, and mid-afternoon in New Orleans. Northbound trains leave New Orleans in early afternoon, arriving in Jackson in early evening, then traveling through Tennessee and southern Illinois overnight before arriving in Champaign-Urbana at breakfast time the following morning and Chicago just after rush hour.

The train provides Tennessee's sole direct link to the Amtrak system; it serves the only two Amtrak stations in Tennessee, Newbern and Memphis.

In fiscal year 2004, the City of New Orleans achieved an on-time performance rating of 67.6%.[26] The train's average on-time performance rating for fiscal year 2006 was 86.8%, reaching as high as 93.5% for the month of May 2006.[27]

In 2016, Amtrak released a study on bringing passenger rail to the Gulf Coast that recommended extending the City of New Orleans to Orlando, Florida along trackage once traversed by the Sunset Limited but unserved since Hurricane Katrina.[28]

The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE) is in the preliminary design phase for the Grand Crossing Project. This project will reroute the Illini, Saluki, and City of New Orleans trains from CN's tracks to Norfolk Southern's Chicago Line in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood in Chicago. This will eliminate a time-consuming switchback on the St. Charles Air Line into Chicago Union Station.[29]


A typical City of New Orleans consist goes as follows:

  • GE Genesis/Siemens ALC-42 locomotive
  • Viewliner Baggage car
  • Superliner Transition-sleeper
  • Superliner Sleeper
  • Superliner Diner-Lounge
  • Superliner Sightseer Lounge
  • Superliner Coach
  • Superliner Coach
  • Superliner Coach-baggage

Folk songEdit

"City of New Orleans" is a folk music song written and first performed by Steve Goodman in 1970 and subsequently recorded by Arlo Guthrie in 1972 and many other artists, notably Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, John Denver (with slightly different lyrics), Judy Collins, and Jerry Reed. The song lyrics trace the trail of the train route in mourning the "...disappearin' railroad blues...." Tom Rush performed and recorded a folk song (based on some Bukka White songs) about the Panama Limited, the overnight train along the same route as the City of New Orleans.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Amtrak Fiscal Year 2022 Ridership" (PDF). Amtrak. November 29, 2022. Retrieved December 6, 2022.
  2. ^ "Amtrak Timetable Results". Retrieved December 20, 2021.
  3. ^ Murray 2006, p. 91
  4. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 92
  5. ^ a b Schafer & Welsh 2002, p. 117
  6. ^ Murray 2006, p. 111
  7. ^ Downey 2007, p. 35
  8. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 94
  9. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 96
  10. ^ Sanders 2006, pp. 96–97
  11. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 105
  12. ^ "NARP: December 1992 Hotlines". National Association of Rail Passengers. December 4, 1992. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved July 11, 2007.
  13. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 97
  14. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 98
  15. ^ Sanders 2006, pp. 99, 105
  16. ^ National Transportation Safety Board (February 5, 2002). "Railroad accident report: Collision of National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) train 59 with a loaded truck-semitrailer combination at a highway/rail grade crossing in Bourbonnais, Illinois, March 15, 1999" (PDF). Retrieved January 27, 2005.
  17. ^ "City of New Orleans rolls into Big Easy". NBC News. October 8, 2005. Archived from the original on October 20, 2014. Retrieved October 9, 2006.
  18. ^ Marcus, Richard (September 21, 2005). "Arlo Guthrie's City of New Orleans Benefit". Retrieved July 12, 2007.
  19. ^ Lydersen, Kari (December 17, 2005). "Storied Train Used As Vehicle For Giving". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 12, 2007.
  20. ^ "Mississippi Delta town welcomes new Amtrak train stop". WREG-TV. May 5, 2018. Retrieved May 6, 2018.
  22. ^ Lazo, Luz (June 16, 2020). "Amtrak is ending daily service to hundreds of stations. Blame the coronavirus pandemic, the railroad says". Washington Post. Retrieved June 5, 2021.
  23. ^ Jorgenson, Dawn (May 27, 2021). "Amtrak is resuming a dozen long-distance trips, all across the country". KSAT. Retrieved June 5, 2021.
  24. ^ Kelly, John. "Amtrak's beginnings". Classic Trains. Kalmbach Publishing. Archived from the original on June 2, 2008. Retrieved July 11, 2007.
  25. ^ "Amtrak Tickets, Schedules and Train Routes". Retrieved July 18, 2022.
  26. ^ "Amtrak On-Time Performance and Losses for FY 2004". United States Department of Transportation, Office of Public Affairs. Archived from the original on February 18, 2007. Retrieved July 12, 2007.
  27. ^ Amtrak (June 7, 2007). "Monthly Performance Report for May 2007" (PDF). p. E-7. Retrieved July 12, 2007.
  28. ^ Group, Sinclair Broadcast (March 26, 2016). "Amtrak passenger service on track for rail service across Gulf Coast". WEAR. Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  29. ^ "Grand Crossing Flyover". CREATE Program. Retrieved May 25, 2021.


  1. ^ Amtrak's Fiscal Year (FY) runs from October 1 of the prior year to September 30 of the named year.

External linksEdit