Here's a trip report I wrote after my trip to Tuscaloosa,AL
Before all of my previous rides on Amtrak’s Crescent, I made it a tradition to make a brief stop at Morning Call coffee stand to get a cup of their world-famous “Café Au Lait”, or coffee with hot milk. I always passed on the temptation to get an order of beignets, for I knew I would be enjoying a nice “breakfast on wheels” in just a couple short hours.
This trip would be no different.
At about 5:15am, I left my house, full of excitement. With no traffic at that time, I made it to Morning Call…which is open 24/7 every day of the year…just about seven minutes later. As usual, there is always a good number of people in the place. This morning, I counted about twenty-five. Within minutes I had my cup of hot coffee in hand and proceeded to make the 15-minute to the Union Passenger Terminal located in downtown New Orleans. The interstate was pretty much traffic-free at this time, and I arrived at the parking lot adjacent to the terminal by 5:50am.
The NOUPT is an adequate facility when all is said and done. Convenient to all of downtown, it serves both Greyhound and Amtrak. Inside, there is a gift store, a food court area which includes a Subway, a first-class lounge for Amtrak sleeping car passengers, and seating for regular passengers in the middle. In the past, the landscaped lawn in front of the terminal was home to a few homeless people, but I did not notice any this time, perhaps due to the NOPD cruiser parked outside the door as well as the officer inside. It’s good to see stepped up security at the terminal. Not that it’s a dangerous place, but it just gives you an extra sense of security. Hey, let’s face it, there are some wierd people out there, many of whom ride Greyhound.
Anyway, the terminal was fairly busy this morning. Besides my Amtrak train departing at 7:00am, they had quite a few Greyhound’s loading for parts unknown. At any given time throughout the day, you can see a minimum of six Greyhound’s at the terminal. I would say they had a good 200 people inside.
Boarding for Amtrak #20, the Crescent, with direct service from New Orleans to New York City via Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington D.C, and points in between, began promptly at 6:15am. Sleeping car passengers boarded first, of which I counted roughly fourteen. Regular boarding began at 6:30am. The train’s consist this morning included the following cars: Four “Amfleet” coaches, two “Viewliner” sleeping cars, one lounge car, and one dining car. One sleek Genesis locomotive provided the power for the train this morning.
I got a nice window seat in the second coach, and settled back. The conductor told me they had 92 coach passengers this morning, which is an average load for a weekday morning, and that the train usually fills to capacity by the time it leaves Atlanta.
We departed the station on Track #3 on-time at 7:00am. As soon as the train leaves the station, passengers on the right side are afforded a great view of the Superdome and New Orleans Arena complex, which is just a stone’s thrown away from the station. Minutes later, we were paralleling Interstate 10, skirting the historic above-ground cemeteries. By 7:20am, we had reached Lake Pontchartrain, speeding past the Lakefront Airport and Bally’s Casino. This is a good straight section of track where the train reaches speeds of over 75mph. Passengers on the left side of the train get an un-obstructed view of the lake during this portion of the journey…literally bordering the tracks…which lasts for around five miles. Moments later, the train left terra firma and started its 7-mile journey over the Lake Pontchartrain trestle. There are no railings on this long bridge, and it gives you a feeling like you’re on a ship, not a train. Looking down to the water out the window, you cannot see any part of the track or bridge.
The announcement was made as soon as the train started its overwater journey: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your first call for breakfast in the dining car.” I proceeded to walk four cars down and found a nice dining car attendant named John who graciously offered me a booth to myself in the mid part of the car. Dining on a train is an experience into itself, and the food isn’t half bad. Everything’s cooked to order in the kitchen occupying the back portion of the car. Just as my breakfast got to the table, the car started to fill up, and I found myself talking to a couple across the way from me going to New York. The neat thing about traveling alone on the train is that you can meet some interesting people. This was their first time on the Crescent, so I, being a Crescent veteran, offered them a good suggestion on what to order. Homemade southern style grits and biscuits! They took my advice and seemed to love it.
In between Slidell and Picayune…the first two station stops….I made my way back to my comfortable coach seat to so some window-watching. The scenery is mostly forest with the occasional bridge and small town every now and again. Nothing terribly exciting, but pretty nonetheless. About two hours and fifteen minutes after we left New Orleans, we passed through the small town of Poplarville,MS. My grandfather used to own land here until I was 13 years old. We came up here every weekend, sometimes by car, sometimes by train (the Poplarville stop has since been abandoned). It brought back some good memories.
Time quikly passes on the train. It was 11:00am before I knew it, and we pulled into Meridian, MS
, home to a nicely restored train depot. About fifteen passengers boarded in Meridian, which is a major rail junction location. Quite a few rail yards in the area.
Once we departed Meridian, I made my way to the Lounge Car to grab a coke and do some reading. The next station stop was mine: Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Before arriving, we crossed a good-sized river, the name of which eludes me at this time.
As usual, we were right on schedule for the entire trip, which has a duration of 5 hours and 20 minutes. The return trip to New Orleans is a little longer, since the trains back up into the New Orleans terminal, just as they do in Chicago.
Another great Amtrak journey comes to an end.