Heading South in Old Time Luxury.
The next leg of my trip, from Chicago to New Orleans, is in one of three vintage rail cars operated by Pullman Rail Journeys. Two sleepers and a dining car/dome car have been added to the rear of Amtrak’s daily train, the City of New Orleans.
I was assigned to a bedroom in the sleeper named Baton Rouge which was built in 1956 by the Pullman company. It originally went into service on the Seaboard Air Line, but actually ended up as part of Amtrak’s original fleet. It emits lots of creaks and groans that change in pitch and volume according to train speed and track conditions, but if you enjoy train travel, it’s music to your ears.
Train 59 was about 1 half hour late leaving Chicago, so the 20 or so Pullman passengers were encouraged to take a quick look at our sleeping accommodations, then head directly to the diner/dome. The dome runs the entire length of the car, by the way. Dinner was excellent and I was glad to have a very nice couple from Houston share my table.
We had been told that breakfast would begin at 6:30 the next morning, but when I showed up at a few minutes past 7:00, the dome was empty. By 8:00, however, passengers filled a half dozen tables, each having been asked the obligatory first question of the day: “How did you sleep?”
It’s a valid question because there are stretches on this run that are quite rough, with the train rocking from side to side in irregular and unpredictable spurts. In fact, as I was trying to type these paragraphs at a table in the dome, SpellCheck was going bonkers.
There was a downside to this segment of the trip, however: there was no real lounge car in Pullman’s part of Train 59’s consist. I’m sure that had to do with the relative small number of passengers, but it meant that passengers could either sit in the dome in essentially a dining car layout, or in their rooms. None of the three cars provided an informal area where passengers could sit, relax and enjoy casual conversation. That’s a very big part of train travel–especially “luxury” train travel–and it’s a reasonable expectation given the cost of the experience. Unfortunately, on this particular trip, it was missing.
Still, would I recommend a ride on the Pullman cars? Sure. But, assuming your schedule is flexible–mine wasn’t–I’d talk to their reservations people and see about getting into one of their larger groups to be sure you’ll get to see and use the lounge car.