The Big Apple to the Big Easy
Distance travelled: 1,377 miles
Journey duration: 30 hours
States passed through: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, DC, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana.
After spending a week in New York, I was ridiculously excited to go to Penn station and pick up my reservation tickets – this was a trip I’d wanted to do for years. I was hungry and wasn’t sure what the food on the train would be like, so I bought a KFC meal before boarding and remembered that in the US, they serve biscuits rather than fries with your chicken. This is a whole other post, but let me just say that these ‘biscuits’ upset British people more than you can imagine. (Don’t argue with me on this – just google scones.)
Thirty hours seemed like a long journey but I was ready for it. Yes, you read that correctly – the journey takes thirty hours from New York to New Orleans. If you tried that in the UK, you’d either end up in the North Sea somewhere or the middle of the Atlantic. How I love this small island nation (except when it votes to leave the EU.)
I found a shop at Penn station selling miniature bottles of prosecco so I bought three, even though I knew they wouldn’t last long. Readers who don’t know me well will discover that I am fond of a drop (or several) of alcohol, especially on long journeys.
As I boarded the train, I was amazed to see how spacious the carriages were and how much legroom each seat had. My rail pass gave you seats in coach for each journey – if you wanted a proper room with a pull-down bed, you had to pay extra for that. For this first journey at least, I wanted to see what the coach carriages were like. If they were awful, on subsequent journeys I would upgrade to a room. The seats actually reclined quite far back and foot-rests ensured you were not far off horizontal, for a pretty decent night’s sleep.
The first six hours passed quickly, probably because I was excited and there was so much to see out of the window. Plus, I had prosecco. I found it interesting how a six-hour train journey in the UK is probably close to the longest you can experience and if you were on such a journey, it would feel never-ending. Yet on the Crescent, six hours felt like no time at all.
What follows will mostly be pictures of the views from the window.
I can tell you’re thrilled by these amazing photos, though there’s a reason for this – subsequent train journeys proved to me that the Crescent is not one of the prettiest routes.
Freight trains however, became a source of wonder. Of course we have these trains in the UK, but in the States they are unbelievably long. For no other reason than I was sat on a train with few distractions except looking out of the window, I started to count how many carriages these freight trains had. I counted…and counted…and counted…and the longest freight I saw had a whopping 139 cars (or carriages). ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY NINE. It takes about ten minutes for one of these trains to go past, which is fine if they’re on another rail, but not if your passenger train has to wait for it to get out of the way.
Overnight I got a surprising amount of sleep – despite the lack of quiet carriages on Amtrak trains that we have in the UK, everyone knew to shut up and get some rest. The conductors dim the lights low and they don’t make announcements, even though there are still station shops in the middle of the night. All passengers are required to have their destination on a ticket above their seat so you can be woken up if you’re asleep as the train nears your stop. With the journeys taking days, and there often being hours between stations, missing yours may mean you end up in a different state entirely, hundreds of miles from where you wanted to be. And nobody wants that. So the conductors would wander up and down the carriages checking everyone’s destination and making sure everyone gets off where they need to. It’s a huge contrast to the UK where a train conductor is a rare creature indeed and if you miss your stop it is one hundred percent your own fault for not paying attention.
I woke up in Georgia thinking, ‘this looks like the kind of place where Deliverance was filmed.’ Turned out I was right – lots of isolated woods with dilapidated log cabins dotted among the trees like warning beacons. We were soon into Alabama and Mississippi, the former of which seemed like a series of highly manicured lawns and the latter just a massive swamp. After I failed to spot any alligators in the mucky pools of water laying either side of the rail tracks, the train headed towards New Orleans and across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, an astonishing bridge over twenty miles long. It honestly felt like I was walking on water. For a good 20 minutes, I felt a bit like Jesus.
Less than an hour later we arrived into New Orleans station and I had made my first overnight train journey in the US.