Route details

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.

The tracks used were once part of the Illinois Central Railroad system, and are now owned by the CN. The following lines are used:
St. Charles Air Line Railroad (IC), Chicago Union Station to the shore of Lake Michigan, now CN
Illinois Central Railroad Chicago Branch and main line, Chicago to Cairo, Illinois, now CN
Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad (IC), Cairo to Fulton, Kentucky, now CN
Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern Railroad (IC), Fulton to Memphis, Tennessee, now CN
Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (IC), Memphis to Lake Cormorant, Mississippi, now CN
Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (IC) branch, Lake Cormorant to Lambert, Mississippi, now CN
Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (IC) branch, Lambert to Swan Lake, Mississippi, now CN
Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (IC) branch, Swan Lake to Black Bayou, Mississippi, now CN
Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (IC) branch, Black Bayou to Greenwood, Mississippi, now CN
Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (IC) Yazoo branch, Greenwood to Jackson, Mississippi, now CN
Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad (IC), Jackson to New Orleans, Louisiana, now CN

In fiscal year 2004, the City of New Orleans achieved an on-time performance rating of 67.6%. 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.

While suggestions have been made to extend the City of New Orleans service east from New Orleans to Orlando, Florida, Amtrak has not yet made any formal proposals to do so.

Folk Song

"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 celebrating 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.
Illinois Central EMD E7 No. 4017 leads the City of New Orleans at Kankakee, Illinois, August, 1964.

Amtrak
When Amtrak assumed operation of U.S. passenger train service on May 1, 1971, the train's Chicago—New Orleans service was initially operated as 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.

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. A Kansas City section began operation on April 29, 1984. Known as the River Cities, it separated at Centralia, Illinois (later Carbondale). This section ended on November 4, 1994. 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.

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%. Nevertheless, on-board service had declined; Trains magazine editor J. David Ingles called the train "Amtrak's least-glamorous long-distance train." 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.

On September 10, 1995, the train was rerouted between Memphis and Jackson due to the Illinois Central Railroad's desire to abandon the original route (the Grenada District) in favor of the newer and flatter Yazoo District. Service ended at Batesville, Mississippi; Grenada, Mississippi; Winona, Mississippi; Durant, Mississippi and Canton, Mississippi.

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.

Because of damage to the states of Mississippi and Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina, Amtrak was forced in late August 2005 to cancel service south of Memphis, Tennessee. Service was first restored as far south as Hammond, Louisiana, and on October 8, 2005, Amtrak resumed service to New Orleans. 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.

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Illinois Central EMD E7 No. 4017 leads the City of New Orleans at Kankakee, Illinois, August, 1964.   

By Lawrence and David Barera (Flickr: Kankakee IC Aug 1964 3-3) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A City of New Orleans Slideshow.

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Route Map of the Amtrak City of New Orleans.
City of New Orleans drumhead

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Amtrak 172 leads the on-time northbound City of New Orleans across the Kankakee River and into the station.
IC E9A 4036 with Train No. 1, the City of New Orleans at Grand Crossing overpass, Chicago, IL on March 31, 1964. Photo by Roger Puta.

Route Map of the Amtrak City of New Orleans.

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Amtrak 172 leads the on-time northbound City of New Orleans across the Kankakee River and into the station.

By Russell Sekeet [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

IC E9A 4036 with Train No. 1, the "City of New Orleans" at Grand Crossing overpass, Chicago, IL on March 31, 1964.  Photo by Roger Puta.

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The City of New Orleans
The City of New Orleans is a former Illinois Central (now Amtrak) passenger train which operates on an overnight schedule between Chicago, Illinois, and New Orleans, Louisiana. The train is a successor to the Illinois Central Railroad's Panama Limited. The train gained its current name in 1981; Amtrak operated a daylight train with the same name over the same route in 1971. Additional corridor service is provided between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, by the Illini and Saluki.

History
Illinois Central

The Illinois Central Railroad introduced the original City of New Orleans on April 27, 1947 as a daytime companion to the overnight Panama Limited. EMD E7 diesel locomotives pulled new lightweight Pullman Company coaches. The 921-mile  route, which the City of New Orleans covered in 15 hours 55 minutes, was the longest daytime schedule in the United States. 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; a result of the largely flat route of the Illinois Central along the Mississippi River and maximum speeds of up to 100 mph. By October 25, 1959 the timetable had lengthened to 16 hours 30 minutes. The train remained popular throughout the 1960s and gained ex-Missouri Pacific Railroad dome coaches in 1967.

Illinois Central Railroad
May, 1947 - Train Number 1

Distance — Station

0.0 — Chicago, IL (Central Station)
6.5 — Chicago, IL (63rd St.)
54.4 — Kankakee, IL
126.4 — Champaign, IL (Urbana)
170.9 — Mattoon, IL
197.8 — Effingham, IL
250.9 — Centralia, IL
287.0 — Du Quoin, IL
306.7 — Carbondale, IL
St. Louis Section
0.0 — St. Louis, MO
3.2 — East St. Louis, IL
17.7 — Belleville, IL
21.0 — Freeburg, IL
31.9 — New Athens, IL
40.8 — Marissa, IL
50.0 — Coulterville, IL
64.4 — Pinckneyville, IL
87.4 — Murphysboro, IL
95.4 — Carbondale, IL
306.7 — Carbondale, IL
327.3 — Anna, IL
360.2 — North Cairo, IL
405.0 — Fulton, KY
Louisville Section
0.0 — Louisville, KY
31.3 — Fort Knox, KY
47.8 — Cecelia, KY
72.5 — Leitchfield, KY
109.6 — Beaver Dam, KY
127.7 — Central City, KY
134.9 — Greenville, KY
152.2 — Nortonville, KY
166.6 — Dawson Springs, KY (Outwood)
181.2 — Princeton, KY
193.2 — Eddyville, KY
193.7 — Kuttawa, KY
208.9 — Calvert, KY (Kentucky Dam)
225.4 — Paducah, KY
248.7 — Mayfield, KY
271.2 — Fulton, KY
405.0 — Fulton, KY
449.3 — Dyersburg, TN
527.4 — Memphis, TN
626.6 — Grenada, MS
649.5 — Winona, MS
679.6 — Durant, MS
714.8 — Canton, MS
738.1 — Jackson, MS
792.1 — Brookhaven, MS
815.9 — McComb, MS
867.9 — Hammond, LA
918.8 — New Orleans, LA (Carrollton Ave.)
921.2 — New Orleans, LA