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Home > Blog > Exhibit Train Blog, 2011-2012 > New Orleans, January 28 and 29

New Orleans, January 28 and 29

Posted by admin at Feb 28, 2012 05:10 PM |
With the opportunity to see the Exhibit Train and the Sunset Limited, visitors glimpsed into Amtrak’s past and present—and dreamed of a bright future.
Sunset Limited poster from the 1990s
Superliner car from the 1990s
Family affair in New Orleans, Exhibit Train platform

Sunset Limited poster from the 1990s

Superliner car from the 1990s

Family affair in New Orleans, Exhibit Train platform

NOL Model Train Admirers
A small visitor tours the Superliner
And the air horns were fascinating!

The model trains had many admirers

A small visitor tours the Superliner

And the air horns were fascinating!

The New Orleans event was definitely a “family affair,” as many Amtrak employees came out to welcome visitors to the Exhibit Train and show off their station—the imposing Union Passenger Terminal known for its colorful murals. The city is an important hub for numerous long distance services that head north (City of New Orleans to Chicago); east (Crescent to New York); and west (Sunset Limited to Los Angeles).

In addition to the Exhibit Train, attendees were able to tour a Sunset Limited consist. Amtrak’s Sunset Limited is the descendent of the former Southern Pacific Railway service of the same name that went into operation in 1894. After more than a century, it remains the oldest “named” train in continuous operation and makes its 1,995 mile journey six times a week. In the display cases found aboard the Exhibit Train, there is quite a bit of memorabilia related to the Sunset Limited, such as route guides, schedules, and lapel pins. Many of the paper items have also been scanned and posted on this website under the Archives section.

The bi-level Superliner equipment on display included coaches, Sleepers, a Sightseer Lounge, and a Diner. In this last car, the skilled Chef Tony whipped up attractive entrees to give people an idea of the culinary delights that await the train traveler. In the Sleeper, the On-Board Service crew made up some of the beds and explained how the two seats in the roomette fold down to make one bed while the other comes down from the ceiling. It was easy to imagine falling asleep to the gentle swaying of the train while the spare desert landscape of southern Arizona or the craggy peaks of New Mexico’s Florida Mountains passed by the window. Visitors who had contemplated a long distance train trip were able to ask questions and get a better idea of the journey ahead.

Inside the terminal, the model railroad set up by the South West Alabama Railroad Modelers club attracted lots of attention for its exclusive use of Lionel-made cars. Although we’ve hosted a dozen model railroads over the last nine months, it never ceases to amaze me how different they can be. Some are based on historic routes while others are drawn from the imagination, and the buildings and landscapes that complete the layouts are always stunning not just for their fine detail, but also for the sheer number of work-hours they represent.

Visitors stopped by to talk with volunteers from Louisiana Operation Lifesaver, a non-profit organization that works to educate the public about the proper way to interact with railroads so as to avoid accidents and injuries. Next door, folks from the Louisiana Steam Train Association spoke enthusiastically about some of their projects, all of which promote an interest in the rich history of American steam railroading. The all-volunteer group has restored Southern Pacific (SP) locomotive #745, originally built in 1921. In December 2004, after years of hard labor, SP 745 conducted its first main-line operations in forty-eight years. Since then, it has made tours through the region and even as far north as Missouri.

Officials from state transportation planning agencies—the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission—talked about future plans for improving intermodal networks along the Gulf Coast. For attendees interested in learning more about the diverse cultures that shaped modern day Louisiana, representatives from the New Orleans Metropolitan and the West Baton Rouge convention and visitors bureaus gave tips about historic sites, arts districts, and—of course—the best places to sample the state’s renowned cuisine (we were particularly interested in these!).

Those in a more musical state of mind were drawn to the Trails and Rails table staffed by rangers and volunteers from the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. The Crescent City is considered the birthplace of American jazz, and the park has developed a full array of programs, including a series of self-guided walking tours that highlight famous jazz haunts and musicians’ homes, as well as a popular concert series held at the Old U.S. Mint Performance Hall.

Well, as they say, the railroad never stops. We’re heading northeast to Meridian, Mississippi, where the rehabilitation of the train station sparked a downtown renaissance. See you there!

—PK