STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Romancing the rails on Amtrak's Crescent

Enthusiasm. It's not terribly widespread among the traveling masses gearing up for the getting-there part of their jo...

Posted: May 21, 2018 11:31 PM
Updated: May 21, 2018 11:31 PM

Enthusiasm. It's not terribly widespread among the traveling masses gearing up for the getting-there part of their journey.

Yet it's a little after 8 a.m. on a Saturday, and travelers gathered at the Atlanta Amtrak station are eager -- excited even -- about starting their trip. The people arriving on the train are upbeat, too.

"Good morning, everybody," says one disembarking passenger to a group waiting to board. "And God bless everybody," says another, upping the ante on conviviality.

Clearly, this heartwarming scene is not unfolding in a US airport.

While giddy anticipation and goodwill toward men are not hallmarks of modern travel, a ride from Atlanta to New Orleans aboard Amtrak's Crescent restored a bit of this traveler's faith in the shared exhilaration of getting from point A to point B.

The romance of rail travel is alive -- even if it's more about novelty than efficiency for many American riders.

Taking the long way

I was definitely in it for the experience. While I've traveled by rail in other countries, this was my first long-distance Amtrak trip.

The scheduled 11 hours and 54 minutes aboard the Crescent meant leaving a day early for a work trip to New Orleans. In reality, the journey lasted 13- hours.

The hour-and-a-half delay is pretty standard. In 2017, 67% of Crescent passengers -- more than 173,000 -- arrived late at their destinations, according to Amtrak.

The rails between Alexandria, Virginia, and New Orleans are operated by Norfolk Southern, and freight trains frequently cause Amtrak delays.

Amtrak operates nearly all the rest of the Crescent's 1,377-mile route between New York's Penn Station and Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans. The whole journey takes 30 hours, if the train stays on schedule.

But what the Crescent from Atlanta may lack in speed, it makes up for in atmosphere and amenities.

The food is pretty tasty -- rail cuisine doesn't suffer the same tinkering that goes into preparing food that will be served at 35,000 feet. The train is spacious; there's a dining car, a lounge and you can walk around, recline, even lie flat.

Amtrak expeditions

For some passengers, the train is basically the destination.

Lorraine Carr decided to ride to Birmingham, Alabama, for lunch on a whim after a very busy month on the job managing an Atlanta carpeting showroom.

Bill Trammell, a retiree living in the Atlanta area with his daughter, son-in-law and two grandkids, hadn't been on a train since he was 8 or 9 years old -- about 60 years ago -- and riding the train again was on his bucket list.

He was on a solo expedition, with plans to spend the night in Meridian, Mississippi. "I might find me a little bar. Get me something good to eat later on, spend the night and stay at the Holiday Inn there and catch it tomorrow morning and come back," he said.

Others had weightier objectives. About 40 Catholic youth and their chaperones were on their way back to the New Orleans suburbs from Washington, where they had participated in a pro-life rally.

They had smartly booked sleeper car accommodations for their overnight journey.

The 'Roomette'

Although my trip was a daytime event, I booked a sleeper, too -- for the full Amtrak experience.

The adult one-way rail fare was $80. The "Viewliner Roomette" sleeper added an additional $138, for a total one-way fare of $218. Roomettes on the Crescent range from $138 to $383, depending on the length of travel and availability.

Three hot meals were included in that rate. I was traveling alone, but there's room for two in the cabin, and meals are included for its occupants. So the $138 Roomette makes decent sense for two travelers (plus the $80 adult fare from Atlanta to New Orleans, times two).

All fare options include free Wi-Fi and two free checked bags. Tiered pricing involves varying levels of cancellation flexibility.

Coach cars feature comfortable reclining seats, outlets, tray tables, etc. But the spatial curiosities of the Viewliner Roomette -- seats, lie-flat berths, a sink and a toilet all wedged into a space about as long as a single bed and 3- feet wide -- provide at least an hour of entertainment.

I didn't notice the sink and toilet at first and later realized that my coffee cup was sitting on a toilet-cover-turned-stepladder. Ewww. Still, how efficient.

It took me about five minutes to wrestle the two floor-level seats into a flat lounger. But I far preferred the narrow, pull-down bunk above.

The bunk is a one-person affair (completely ill-suited to intimate encounters, one passenger reported from experience). And the compact toilet/table begs a high level of familiarity with your cabin-mate.

The trance state facilitated by the train's rhythmic bumping along the rails is reason enough to ride. And I cannot overstate how relaxing it is to loll on the top bunk, watching the sunlight change on the trees as the day rolls by through a smudgy body-length window.

The dining car

A 12- to 14-hour nap is really not a bad idea for someone heading to New Orleans.

But the food is included for sleeper car passengers, and the dining car is a social hub. Stories are swapped among strangers seated together in the dining car as swamps and streams and lumber yards and rickety barns with rusted tin rooftops fade in and out of view.

At dinnertime, the Crescent offers an abbreviated menu as the train approaches New Orleans (although it was still a ways off on this trip due to freight-train delays). So there were three entr-e choices rather than six or seven: chicken breast, salmon or vegetarian pasta.

I had the salmon, and it was the best of my three meals. Served with a delicious spicy Thai curry sauce, green beans and potatoes, the salmon was perfectly cooked and much, much better than anything I've had on an airplane.

On the normal dinner menu, entr-es for - la carte diners range from $17 to $39 (for the steak and seafood combo).

The omelet at breakfast was a tasty diner-style offering. The croissant would not win any awards. The side salad at lunch was simple, fresh and crisp, but the mussels were overcooked.

By and large, though, eating aboard the Crescent was a pleasant experience and a nice way to break up the day.

The 13th hour

The rest of the time, that top bunk was beckoning.

The rural landscapes occasionally gave way to church steeples and tract homes and Aldi and Krispy Kreme.

Admittedly, I was ready to get off the train by hour 12. And by then it was pitch dark.

I'd recommend embarking on this journey after Daylight Saving Time kicks in. When I rode the Crescent earlier this year, I missed most of the scenery rolling into New Orleans, including the stretch across Lake Pontchartrain.

But I did catch eerie, glow-in-the-dark glimpses of the city's elaborate above-ground tombs in a cemetery bordering the tracks on the way into town.

By then, many passengers had long since disembarked. Trammell was probably having a drink in a bar in Mississippi and Carr was likely back in Atlanta after her Alabama lunch expedition.

The large Catholic contingent was just starting to fan out in cars and buses from the Amtrak station in neighboring Slidell, Louisiana.

At the end of the line in New Orleans, we spilled out of the train, a jumble of passengers and luggage and Amtrak attendants. The platform cleared quickly. The journey was complete.

From Union Passenger Terminal it was about a 10-minute taxi ride to the French Quarter. Total travel time from my doorstep to the hotel: A little over 15 hours.

Would I do it again? Yes, but I had planned to hurry home from this trip.

My flight was delayed by several hours.

Tucked into a rigid seat at the airport gate, snacking on a bag of gummy bears, I couldn't help but think of the romance of the rails.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 33068

Reported Deaths: 2068
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9524558
Lake3494175
Cass15897
Allen141966
St. Joseph122134
Hendricks114268
Hamilton113292
Elkhart110128
Johnson1092106
Madison58459
Porter50522
Bartholomew49034
Clark47941
LaPorte42022
Tippecanoe3823
Howard37824
Delaware37636
Jackson3721
Shelby36822
Hancock32727
Floyd31739
Boone30535
Morgan27724
Vanderburgh2592
Montgomery23417
White2308
Decatur22431
Clinton2221
Noble20421
Grant19721
Dubois1903
Harrison18921
Henry16910
Greene16824
Monroe16512
Warrick16528
Dearborn16521
Vigo1538
Lawrence15223
Miami1401
Putnam1357
Jennings1294
Orange12422
Scott1203
Ripley1106
Franklin1098
Kosciusko1011
Carroll933
Daviess8416
Steuben812
Marshall801
Newton7610
Wayne756
Fayette747
Wabash742
LaGrange682
Jasper661
Washington511
Jay490
Fulton471
Clay461
Rush452
Randolph453
Jefferson431
Pulaski410
Whitley383
Owen351
Sullivan341
DeKalb331
Brown331
Starke323
Perry280
Wells270
Benton260
Huntington262
Knox250
Tipton241
Crawford230
Blackford222
Parke190
Spencer191
Switzerland190
Fountain182
Posey160
Gibson142
Adams131
Ohio130
Warren121
Vermillion100
Martin90
Union80
Pike60
Unassigned0161
West Lafayette
Few Clouds
81° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 81°
Kokomo
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 73°
Rensselaer
Scattered Clouds
75° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 75°
Fowler
Scattered Clouds
75° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 75°
Williamsport
Scattered Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 79°
Crawfordsville
Clear
76° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 76°
Frankfort
Scattered Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 79°
Delphi
Scattered Clouds
76° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 78°
Monticello
Scattered Clouds
76° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 78°
Logansport
Scattered Clouds
75° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 75°
Cooler, less humid weather ahead by the weekend.
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events