US Midwest: Texas Eagle and City of New Orleans

Dave W

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27 Sep 2019
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337
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North London
Hello,

At various points over the next three weeks, my partner and I will be travelling on the above trains on legs of our trip through the American Midwest.

30/4 Chicago - St Louis (Texas Eagle) dep 1155 arr 1745
13/5 Jackson, MS - New Orleans (City of New Orleans) dep 1120 arr 1547

We’ve booked very reasonable advance coach tickets on both trains. I’ve slid a couple of bids into their bid up service as well, on account of the journey lengths (the “shorter hop” is still KX-Edinburgh!)

I’d like to know if others have been on either train, what sort of comfort and service should I expect and is the upgrade worth it (cost aside)? What should I look out for and are there any tips for a smooth journey?

A less important question - what will the motive power be like, and will they let me cop a photo of it?
 
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Zerothebrake!

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26 Mar 2012
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I managed to do all of the Amtrak named trains over the years but left the Texas Eagle until last as it's often their most delayed service - and true to form, we hit a chevvy truck on an open xing in Texas.

The driver was killed outright and we were bussed to the next town to pick up another train - the train was so late by Dallas that Amtrak paid for me to fly to Chicago on Southwest! Just saying..
 

nlogax

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For both trips you're going to find the Superliner cars are pretty comfy way to spend a few hours. For the New Orleans leg you're going to have the additional benefit of an observation lounge car, though whether the scenery merits it I don't know. From my experience of the Eagle there's not masses to see on the Chicago to St Louis leg...it's all a bit flat.
 

Meole

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28 Oct 2018
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P42DC in all probability, photo should be no problem if sensible, its a big country and most of it is less interesting than you would hope. However the freight operations are a huge contrast to UK.
 

thejuggler

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For both trips you're going to find the Superliner cars are pretty comfy way to spend a few hours. For the New Orleans leg you're going to have the additional benefit of an observation lounge car, though whether the scenery merits it I don't know. From my experience of the Eagle there's not masses to see on the Chicago to St Louis leg...it's all a bit flat.
My wife has spent a lot of time around Champaign in the middle of Illinois and has driven to both Chicago and St Louis.

If corn fields are your thing you'll have an amazing time!
 

nlogax

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My wife has spent a lot of time around Champaign in the middle of Illinois and has driven to both Chicago and St Louis.

If corn fields are your thing you'll have an amazing time!
Hah yep, this is true. Having worked in southern Illinois and out west in Des Moines I can also confirm that corn is definitely the in-thing :D Bit dull to watch miles and miles of it from a train window.
 

duncanp

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I have travelled from Chicago to St Louis, although on the Lincoln Service train, not the Texas Eagle.

I was in business class, and it was comfortable with wide seats and plenty of leg room. There was complimentary tea and coffee on offer, but no other refreshments were provided.

From what I saw of the coach class carriages, they were of a perfectly acceptable standard, and definitely better than standard class on most UK trains.

Most of the journey is through the rural parts of Southern Illinois, so there isn't a lot of spectacular scenery, just loads of cornfields punctuated by small towns.

The train crosses into Missouri just before you get to St Louis. You will get a good view of the Gateway Arch just after crossing the Mississippi river, so have your camera at the ready.

In St Louis, don't forget to travel on the local light rail system, which is called Metrolink and has some station names familiar to UK residents (Shrewsbury, Brentwood, Emerson Park and Swansea)
 

Dave W

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27 Sep 2019
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North London
Thanks all for your insights folks. Definitely will try and tick off some UK stations in STL! (I suspect, duncanp, that you're at Busch in your profile pic as it looks like the customary Arch in the outfield grass - my first visit on Sunday!)

Cornfields better than a window pillar, etc, etc. I shall check in post trip!
 

duncanp

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Thanks all for your insights folks. Definitely will try and tick off some UK stations in STL! (I suspect, duncanp, that you're at Busch in your profile pic as it looks like the customary Arch in the outfield grass - my first visit on Sunday!)

Cornfields better than a window pillar, etc, etc. I shall check in post trip!

My profile picture is of the Busch Stadium in St Louis, when I visited in 2015.

St Louis is well supplied with small independent craft breweries, so make sure to try a few of those whilst you are there.
 

Dave W

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Location
North London
Well I'm in NOLA now, with two Amtrak trips under my belt. The following might be long but hopefully useful.

I found the Texas Eagle leg in coach very comfortable - we got seats together, fully reclinable, and had no issues throughout. The train was delayed starting - initially I was told the set would be formed of the stock from the inbound Capitol Limited from Washington which would require servicing on depot. This would take 45 min from arrival. As it happened, they must have found an alternative set as we got away not long after the Capitol arrived.

The train suffered several delays early on and crawled through the suburbs of southern Chicago, but arrived into St Louis just 20 down..

We didn't win the upgrade bidding but the seats were comfortable and the legroom expansive for a train. We were upstairs whilst the toilets and a luggage space were below. I didn't explore but ice and water were available by the stairs.

As suggested there was naff all to see really, apart from the occasional freight. I was told categorically not to open the platform-opposite door window at a station where a freight was waiting, as I was setting up a shot through the window... Suitably admonished (I had no intention of opening it but only because I didn't know you could!) I got my shot and sulked off!

--

I found out we won the upgrade bid to a roomette for the Jackson-NO leg today on Weds night. As it turned out, the advance seats plus upgrade ($55x2 plus $65) was actually more than the walk up roomette of 150ish, but the advance tickets were non-refundable, so I took the hit.

For $32.50 each we got a better than aeroplane lunch, plus an alcoholic drink each, alongside unlimited soft and hot drinks. The great boon, however, was the roomette which was very flexible for our needs - an entirely private space facing each other in the form of a compartment - velcro curtains and a lockable compartment door. These roomettes convert to beds similar to a UK sleeper but more confined - I used the upper bunk as a luggage rack by "half" deploying the upper bunk. It was actually fairly tight compared to coach, but I think if we'd deployed the bottom half seats to a semi state of bed and seat we'd have been able to top and tail. As it was herself snored away as I lounged with my feet up watching the world go by.

The scenery was of more interest on the second leg. Several rail connected companies and a couple of interesting towns, plus the approach to NO via the swamps and lakes.

The train turned right round the wye outside NO Union station and the loco propelled the train back to the platforms - I asked the train manager(?) if this was standard procedure as we walked up the platform and he said it was to facilitate the later NB departure. Since the carriage sidings were in the middle of this triangle I struggle to see how this made life easier than running it in and propelling out again but who am I to disagree!

--

Overall Amtrak was an excellent experience. The trains are comparatively slow and seem to be at the mercy of freight-dominated control procedure, but despite both running late the journeys were good. At Chicago, an obviously bigger station, checked baggage disappeared into a system similar to an airline departure gate. At Jackson once I'd handed my luggage over I was free to do whatever and was on the platform enjoying myself a good time before ours arrived.

Chicago Station was bizarre - the very pretty booking hall aside the rest was a modern maze. We entered from the west and were directed along the "suburban" platforms at Eye level with the brake blocks of several trains to get to the concourses.

St Louis - we identified our bags in the luggage compartment of the train so took them ourselves and dissapared through the sparse station.

Jackson was fascinating - its only passenger calls are the City of New Orleans trains (SB booked 1120, NB 1745ish) - the station is fully staffed (2x by the looks) 1030-1800 depending on delays. The station was complete but fixtures sparse.

New Orleans was a bit more like a UK station, albeit the reversing in was odd and my nearest comparison to the setup was Blackpool North(!!!) - good links to buses, coaches and trolley in any case.

--

I spent a fair chunk of time - courtesy of herself - hunting trains and trolleys and metros. I've had a good haul across Chicago, St Louis, Memphis and New Orleans. My perception of the US is that whilst it might be begrudgingly bad - plastic seats, urine stench in cars, general antipathy to public transport - cities here are in many ways advanced to ours in this regard.

The trains themselves are vast, of course. Upstairs on the Viewliner with a cold beer was excellent, even if the outward obverse seating and view made me pine for the Victoria Line (a bit).

I did some minor chasing in Chicago but my main interest was Memphis which was very busy - a walk across Hanrahan Bridge alongside a detained freight was most interesting, as was the area's history (courtesy of the railroad museum at Central Station).All that said, the main fruit came stationed at the 5th floor window of my room at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Jackson, which incorporated a superb view of the seeminglt ubiquitous freight train.

--

Some bizarre experiences, some good ones. Would do this again!
 

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