City of New Orleans, The Song and the Train

When I go to Stanford for my chemo my wife Sarah drivs the first “leg” from home in Fort Bragg to Willits. During this “leg” I put my earphones on and listen to random selections from my 8,750 tune collection on my Zune. Today, coming home from Stanford, the song “City of New Orleans” got randomly selected twice. The first time it was sung by Arlo Guthrie who had a big hit with it. The second was by Steve Goodman  who wrote it.
As I enjoyed both versions I was curious as to the background to the song and whether there really was a train named, “City of New Orleans”.

Riding on the City of New Orleans
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail


Good morning, America, how are you
Don’t you know me, I’m your native son
I’m the train they call The City of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

Steve Goodman wrote this in 1970. He wrote the lyrics on a sketch pad after his wife fell asleep on the Illinois Central train, where they were going to visit his wife’s grandmother. Goodman wrote about what he saw looking out the windows of the train and playing cards in the club car. Everything in the song actually happened on the ride. After he returned home he heard the train was scheduled to be decommissioned due to lack of passengers. He was encouraged to use this song to save the train. He retouched the lyrics and released it on his first album in 1971. He performed the song for Arlo Guthrie in the Quiet Knight, a bar in Chicago, and Guthrie agreed to add it to his repertoire and as they say, the rest is history.

Was there/is there a train? Yes. The City of New Orleans is a now nightly passenger train operated by Amtrak which travels 934 miles between Chicago, Illinois and New Orleans, Louisiana. Before Amtrak’s formation in 1971, the train was operated by the Illinois Central Railroad along the same route (though changes have been made since then). The train currently operates on a 19½ hour schedule.

The Illinois Central Railroad introduced the original City of New Orleans on April 27, 1947 as a daytime companion to the overnight Panama Limited. No steam locomotives pulled her. Illinois Central used EMD E7 diesel locomotives to pull new lightweight Pullman Company coaches along a 921-mile route which the City of New Orleans covered in 15 hours 55 minutes. It was the longest daytime schedule in the United States. The average speed of the new train was nearly 60 miles per hour a result of the largely flat route along the Mississippi River and maximum speeds of up to 100 miles per hour were normal.

City of New Orleans

City of New Orleans


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