Riding on The City Of New Orleans

The swimming pool was welcoming on a hot summer day and oak lined sidewalks following the bay front were perfect for an evening stroll. 

By Jack M. Turner

A familiar feeling swept over me as my wife and I stepped inside New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal on Wednesday, June 15 to board the City of New Orleans headed to Chicago.  Our ultimate destination, Seattle, was a three night journey away and we looked forward to seeing outlying parts of the Pacific Northwest that we had missed on previous trips.  The familiarity with the New Orleans station was in part due to multiple visits through the years but mostly stemmed from having stood in the same place this past February when boarding Amtrak’s Gulf Coast Inspection Train bound for Jacksonville.  Interestingly, a part of that train and I would cross paths at the tail end of this trip.

The drive from our north Florida home to New Orleans dictated an overnight stopover outside the Crescent City but close enough to allow a leisurely drive on train departure day.  A friend whom I  met on the Gulf Coast trip suggested the Bay Town Inn in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and his recommendation was right on target.  The inn is a charming property located right across the main city street from a St. Louis Bay marina with a clear view of the CSX bridge crossing the bay.  Our suite was decorated in a beach motif and came complete with a kitchenette, front porch, and inviting sitting and bed rooms. The swimming pool was welcoming on a hot summer day and oak lined sidewalks following the bay front were perfect for an evening stroll.  With popular local restaurants adjacent, going to dinner did not even require a car.

Seeing Bay St. Louis up close and personal was an objective of this writer as its citizenry tuned out en masse for the 1993 Sunset Limited inaugural when Amtrak began service along the Gulf Coast to Florida.  After Hurricane Katrina roared ashore in August 2005, rail passenger service to the region was suspended and just recently the light began to shine at the end of the tunnel as Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission partnered to survey the route in hopes of resuming service in the next three years.  I was uncertain what my tour of the town would reveal as Katrina had devastated the area, washing away the original bed and breakfast inn located where the Bay Town Inn today stands leaving owner Nikki Moon and neighbors clinging to the top of a tree to survive.  This survival trait obviously lives on in many area residents who have restored their community to the beautiful place that it is.  It was, in fact, Nikki who was instrumental in drumming up support for the huge crowd that greeted the inspection train in February to the amazement of officials aboard the special run.

Hancock County tourism official Jane Byrne picked me up and gave me an excellent tour of the town starting with a visit to St. Rose de Lima church which featured a magnificent alter made of driftwood.  From there we took a look at the stadium where Doc Blanchard, the first junior to win college football’s Heisman Trophy in the early 1940s, played high school football.  We then drove past buildings used in the 1966 movie “This Property is Condemned” which starred Robert Redford and Natalie Wood and featured the railroad prominently.  The movie includes scenes filmed aboard passenger trains as well as shots of the depot, railway bridge, and surrounding area including many buildings that stand today.  Next we visited the historic railway depot served for decades by Louisville & Nashville passenger trains and later by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited.  The lobby of the depot contained an impressive exhibit of Mardi Gras costumes used in the annual celebration in Bay St. Louis as well as a locally focused railroad exhibit.  Upstairs an excellent art gallery featuring the works of local folk artist Alice Moseley is open to the public as is the Hancock County Visitors Center.  The railway platform stands ready to welcome Amtrak back but until then visitors may watch passing CSX freight trains as I did during my tour of the station.  Indeed Bay St. Louis and the Bay Town Inn is a great place to visit for a taste of life along the Gulf, a quiet getaway, and train watching on a busy CSX main line, all just a short rental car drive from New Orleans.

Click link to read more of the original article. A recent guest of the Bay Town Inn, Jack Turner shared his experience on The City of New Orleans Amtrak Train.