Serving Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, and intermediate points
Amtrak train numbers: 58 and 59
Predecessor railroad train numbers: Illinois Central 5 and 6
On December 1, 1912, the Illinois Central Railroad added new train service to their main line between Chicago and New Orleans. To commemorate the recent opening of the Panama Canal, the train was named the Panama Limited. (The name wasn't a total non sequitur, since it was then possible to connect in New Orleans with a steamship for Panama.) Four years later, it became their flagship on the route, operating on an overnight schedule with sleeping cars only.
After a layoff during the early years of the Great Depression, the Panama Limited returned in 1934 as an all-air conditioned train, and then received new equipment in 1942 that had been ordered before the war.
The Panama Limited continued as an all-sleeping-car train until 1967, when coaches were added; however, to avoid sullying the train's good name, the Illinois Central gave the coach section the name Magnolia Star, and the train continued as the combined Panama Limited/Magnolia Star until Amtrak took over in 1971.
Amtrak chose to keep only one train on the Chicago-New Orleans route, and at first, that was the Panama Limited's daytime counterpart, the City of New Orleans. With their first major schedule change on November 14, 1971, though, Amtrak switched that train to an overnight schedule and reinstated the Panama Limited name.
However, thanks to the fact that the train went to New Orleans and not Panama, not to mention free advertising from a certain Arlo Guthrie song, Amtrak changed the Panama Limited name back to City of New Orleans on February 1, 1981, while keeping the train on its overnight schedule.
Condensed historical timetables:
READ DOWN READ UP
(1956) (1972) (1980) (1980) (1972) (1956)
5:00P 5:00P 4:20P Dp Chicago Ar 10:45A 9:30A 8:45A
6:55P 7:15P 6:50P Champaign 7:56A 7:09A 6:40A
9:41P 10:15P 10:05P Carbondale 4:50A 4:17A 3:40A
2:17A 2:40A 3:05A Memphis 11:55P 11:47P 11:00P
6:10A 6:22A 7:08A Jackson, MS 7:43P 7:46P 7:25P
9:30A 9:59A 10:35A Ar New Orleans Dp 4:30P 4:30P 4:15P
The Amtrak Train Names Project