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Saturday, as many of you know was National Train Day, a celebration of all things rail in America.

Here in New Orleans, it was a chance to celebrate 30 years of Amtrak's management of the old Southern Railroad Crescent line, which runs between New York and our fair city.

So, without further ado. . . all aboard!

Back in 1979, a few years after I'd started riding the Crescent from the city of my birth to the place I've called home my adult life, Amtrak took over the last privately-owned leg of the route (DC to NO).  The beautiful old, stainless steel-clad Pullman cars went south to the Guadalajara-to-District Federal run and one of the last great American passenger rides went under Amtrak management.

As a passenger who's run this route in the before and after phases, I have to say Amtak has done a decent job of maintaining quality service while reducing operating costs.  Mind you, this is no Great Age of Rail experience, but the Crescent is a good road to ride.  I was proud to get one of the posters with Michael Schwab's new image for the route, so reminiscent of the Union Pacific promotional posters of the 30s and 40s.

The real star of today's show is, of course, New Orleans' Union Passenger Terminal itself.  Replacing the city's Union Station, the UPT was completed in 1954 under the administration of Mayor deLesseps S. "Chep" Morrison and represents clean, functional lines of the postwar modernist era.  The terminal is most famous perhaps for the four-panel mural history of Louisiana painted by Conrad Albrizio, which echo both the cubist school and the Latin style of Diego Rivera, but have a feel all their own.

For more details on the history of the terminal and its importance to the city, see the UPT page.  

The UPT was the perfect venue for our celebration of National Train Day, its  large central hall more than ample enough to house the booths and tables of railroading afficianados like the Mississippi Model Railroad Association, who brought a huge square-O layout which delighted kids of all ages.

Still, it wasn't the itty bitty cars we came to see as much as the big old beauts.  And they were there.

Privately-owned and restored cars like the Promontory Point and the Jane Marie were in the yard, along with the beautiful Southern-era Royal Street, which I actually had the pleasure of riding back in the pre-79 day.

Oh, the luxury.  The first time I settled into my room in one of those fine cars, I took of my shoes and set them in the little box by the door labeled "Shoe Closet."  When I went to get up and enjoy a cocktail in the club car an hour later, my shoes were gone!  Looking carefully into the space, I saw there was a door on the hall side.

I jammed my finger into the call button and, a moment later, a porter came to the door.  


"I put my shoes into the shoe closet and they're gone."

"Well, yes, sir.  I assumed you wanted them shined."

"Oh, yes.  Of course."

Totally cool, that 18-year-old me.

But the real belle of the yard's ball was the 93-year-old San Marino, an 82-foot, eight room private Pullman car currently owned by the lucky and burdened Dean Levin, a New Orleans financial consultant.

The San Marino was never left to decay, and when Levin bought it, its resurrection wasn't so much a matter of renovation as checking, cleaning and restoring in the best sense.  The biggest task he faced was rewiring and integrating all the electrical systems into a new, state-of-the-art digital control system.

Time to give up on the fancy diary formatting and just let the pictures of this elegant lady and her original glory speak for themselves.

All in all, what a wonderful way to celebrate our past and future transportation miracle, the train.  I hope you had a heck of a two-rail day.

Originally posted to Crashing Vor on Sat May 09, 2009 at 09:01 PM PDT.

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