A New Experience on the Historic Amtrak City of New Orleans Train

NEW ORLEANS — One of America’s most storied trains, the Amtrak City of New Orleans, starts a fresh chapter this Sunday, October 28, with a new on-board experience that includes a taste of its namesake city and the region.

A new food service car — called the “Cross Country Café” — offers a menu that includes Red Beans & Rice, Jambalaya, Bread Pudding Pie, pre-departure dining an hour before the train leaves Chicago each night, lounge service for casual food and beverages until the late evening and continuous food service the next day.

“We’ve taken what we’ve learned from service improvement projects on Acela Express, Empire Builder and Capitol Limited to design a more cost-effective platform for delivering a great customer experience on long-distance trains,” said Emmett Fremaux, Jr., Amtrak Marketing and Product Management Vice President. “By improving the ambience and versatility of the car, along with food service quality, passenger convenience and overall productivity, we expect to deliver a better customer experience with improved business results.

“Regional menus are a success on the Empire Builder, and we’ve been pre-boarding passengers on the Capitol Limited in Chicago,” added Fremaux, pointing out some of the new features of the City of New Orleans service. At-seat Cart Service, developed on Acela Express and tested with the “Cross Country Café” prototype on the Capitol Limited, is also included in the City of New Orleans service plan.

“With 6:30 a.m. until midnight food and beverage offerings in the “Cross Country Café” and special pricing, we’re planning to make it even easier to have a great time to and from the “Big Easy” on the Amtrak City of New Orleans,” said Brian Rosenwald, Chief, Product Management.

As in the case of other food service initiatives, success stories will be shared across the Amtrak national network and similar improvements in service design are likely elsewhere.

The “Cross Country Café” is the first of a series of “Diner Lounge” Superliner cars. Although the concept is similar to single-level “tavern” or “bistro” cars in rail history, this bi-level car combines higher technology food and beverage preparation and service with cherry-like veneer surfaces, more comfortable seating and adjustable halogen and LED lighting.

Teams of New Orleans-based employees are completing training in the car, which was heavily modified from its original floor plan by Delaware-based Amtrak designers and using craftsworkers at the Amtrak shops in Beech Grove, Ind. Localized menus were developed by Amtrak’s culinary team, with input from New Orleans-based Amtrak crews.

This railcar, which completed an extensive design review process, will be previewed to members of the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee meeting this weekend in New Orleans. Then, the Preservation Hall Brass Band performs at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal and leads passengers to celebrate the first northbound departure of the Amtrak City of New Orleans train with the improved food service, this Sunday at 1:45 p.m.

Coach fares start as low as $105 each way between Chicago and New Orleans, plus upgrades to Roomettes and Bedrooms in the Sleeping Car, subject to availability. Meals and soft drinks in the “Cross Country Café” are included in the Sleeping Car accommodation charge.

About the City of New Orleans Train

The train has operated in one form or another for 50 years, with about half of those years under Amtrak.

The former Illinois Central Railroad first operated a train called the City of New Orleans in 1947. The song about the train, written by the late Steve Goodman of Chicago, is the story of the train as it was operated by the Illinois Central until it was discontinued on November 14, 1971. Unlike today’s train, which travels overnight with sleeping cars on its “odyssey,” the Illinois Central train operated it as a day train.

After the song was popularized by Arlo Guthrie, Amtrak christened its Chicago-Memphis-New Orleans overnight train with the historic City of New Orleans name, effective February 1, 1981.

Today’s Amtrak City of New Orleans (Trains 58 & 59) follows much of the same route of the earlier train, mostly on tracks owned, maintained and controlled by CN, the successor to the Illinois Central. The route was changed between Memphis and Jackson, Mississippi, in 1995.

Therefore, while the name of the train is the same, the train itself and its service are quite different than the train in the song.

The Amtrak City of New Orleans was one of the first forms of public intercity transportation to resume full service following Hurricane Katrina. Arlo Guthrie renewed his connection to New Orleans and celebrated the Amtrak version of the train by performing in a post-hurricane relief effort for musicians, using the Amtrak City of New Orleans in December 2005.

Ridership on the train continues to recover from Katrina-reduced levels. For the 12 months ending September 30, 2007, Amtrak City of New Orleans ridership is up by 3 percent, totaling 180,473 for the Amtrak fiscal year, with ticket revenue up 6.6 percent.