Senior editor Gay Nagle Myers sampled Pullman Rail Journeys’ overnight rail service from Chicago to New Orleans, a 20-hour, 934-mile odyssey that loosely followed the path of the Mississippi River south, passing cities, farmlands, muddy fields, swamps, the graveyards of rusted cars and small towns where people in cars waved as the train passed by. She decided that rail travel is underrated and she wants more of it. Gay’s first dispatch follows.
SOMEWHERE IN MISSISSIPPI — Ridin’ the rails has long been a love of mine. Ridin’ the rails on an overnight sleeper had been near the top of my bucket list for just as long.
I just did it. I entered a time machine and loved it.
Seven hours into my journey, I awoke at 3:53 a.m. because the motion of the wheels rumbling beneath me, which had lulled me to sleep, had stopped. The scene outside the picture window of my cozy, very compact compartment was a single florescent streetlight above a darkened train station in the middle of nowhere USA.
Later, with the sun up, I enjoyed the signature breakfast dish, Railroad French Toast, served on cutlery from the 1900s, on a table covered with a white linen tablecloth in the Pullman dining car of the same era.
My fellow passengers were reading, conversing, checking emails and working on laptops (Pullman did add some modern-day upgrades to its vintage cars, although service was spotty in some areas).
I looked out the window. I was glued to it. I could not get enough of the passing landscape of Mississippi. We’d already covered Illinois, a corner of Kentucky and Tennessee.
Pullman Rail Journeys is an independently owned operator of first-class passenger service on both the Amtrak scheduled network and private train and charter service. It’s a re-creation of the first comfortable sleeping car for rail travel that Pullman introduced in 1858.
Two of Pullman’s restored cars were attached to the end of the train I was on — the Illinois Central Line’s regularly scheduled City of New Orleans service that departs Chicago’s Union Station on Thursdays and New Orleans’ Union Passenger Terminal on Sundays.
Way to soon, the porters came to collect everyone’s luggage, and the siren song of the locomotive whistle sounded, announcing our arrival, right on time, in the Big Easy.
I have already decided that there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, no matter where it’s going.
That’s not my line. Credit goes to poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, but I agree completely.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.