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Crescent (Amtrak)


Crescent (Amtrak)

Picayune, Mississippi.
Service type Inter-city rail
Status Operating
Locale Eastern United States
First service February 1, 1979
Current operator(s) Amtrak
Former operator(s) Southern Railway as Southern Crescent and
other names beginning in 1891
Ridership 833 daily
304,086 total (FY11)[1]
Start New York, NY
End New Orleans, LA
Distance travelled 1,377 mi (2,216 km)
Average journey time 30 hours
Service frequency Daily each way
Train number(s) 19, 20
On-board services
Class(es) Coach and Sleeper Class
Seating arrangements Reserved Coach Seat
Sleeping arrangements Viewliner Roomette (2 beds)
Viewliner Bedroom (2 beds)
Viewliner Bedroom Suite (4 beds)
Viewliner Accessible Bedroom (2 beds)
Catering facilities Dining car
Lounge café car
Baggage facilities Checked baggage available at
selected stations
Rolling stock See consist description below
Track gauge
Electrification Only between New York City
and Washington DC
Track owner(s) AMTK

The Crescent is a passenger train operated by Amtrak in the eastern part of the United States. It runs 1,377 miles (2,216 km) daily from Pennsylvania Station in New York City to New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans, Louisiana as train 19 and returns, on the same route, as train 20. Most of the route of the Crescent is on the Norfolk Southern Railway. The Crescent passes through more states (including the District of Columbia) than any other Amtrak route.[2]

During fiscal year 2011, the Crescent carried over 300,000 passengers, a 1.8% increase over FY2010. The train had a total revenue of $30,023,636 during FY2011, an increase of 4.6% over FY2010.[1]


19th century

A decade after the Civil War, the predecessor of the Southern Railway, the Richmond and Danville Railroad established the "Piedmont Air Line Route." This connected the Northeastern US with Atlanta and New Orleans both via Richmond and via Southern's present route through Charlottesville and Lynchburg. The "Southern Express" and the "Southern Mail" operated over these routes on an advertised time of 57 hours and 40 minutes, including a change at Atlanta.

Today's Crescent is the lineal descendant of the Washington & Southwestern Vestibuled Limited, inaugurated on January 4, 1891, by the Richmond and Danville. This Washington-Atlanta train was soon nicknamed the Vestibule because it was the first all-year train with vestibuled equipment operating in the South.

The brochure announcing the train hailed it as "a service second to none in completeness and elegance of detail ... providing all the latest and best facilities for the comfort and enjoyment of its patrons." The Vestibule lived up to its billing. Drawing-room and stateroom sleeping cars, dining cars, smoking and library cars and observation cars embodied the latest, most luxurious designs. They were gas-lighted throughout and equipped with hot and cold running water. The vestibuled platforms proved an interesting novelty. Many passengers spent considerable time walking from one car to another just to enjoy the unusual experience of being able to do so without having their hats blown away.

Soon the Washington-Atlanta routing expanded via the West Point Route from Atlanta to Montgomery and the Louisville and Nashville Railroad from Montgomery to New Orleans. New York was brought into the schedule via a connection in Washington with the Pennsylvania Railroad's Congressional Limited. Scheduled time for the New York-New Orleans run was advertised as a "40-hour, unprecedented" trip. Because of the popularity of this service, the Vestibule became a solid train of through cars between New York and New Orleans. It also carried the first dining cars to operate between those two cities.

After the R&D's successor, Southern Railway, came into existence in 1894, the train was called the Washington & Southwestern Limited southbound, and the New York Limited northbound.

Early 20th century

In 1906, the train was renamed the New York & New Orleans Limited and equipped with new club cars and observation cars.[3]

The Southern Railway and Southern Pacific discussed the possibility of running a single train from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles via New Orleans, which would have become the first truly transcontinental train. However, plans failed to materialize leaving that distinction to the Sunset Limited in the Amtrak era.

According to railroad historian Mike Schafer,[4]

By 1925, the train was re-equipped and renamed the Crescent Limited, a true all-Pullman extra-fare train. . . . By 1938 the name became simply the Crescent. It was dieselized in 1941 and streamlined in 1949. The Crescent also carried the through coast-to-coast sleepers of the "Washington-Sunset Route" in conjunction with the Southern Pacific west of New Orleans to Los Angeles.

Mid 20th century

The Crescent Limited was dieselized after World War II with General Motors' (Electro-Motive Division) EMD E-8 locomotives and FP-7 cab and booster units, in sets of two to five (total 3,000 – 9,000 h.p.). Passengers leaving New Orleans would arrive Atlanta in the afternoon, Charlotte in the evening and New York City in the morning; the 1954 schedule for the 1355 miles to New York was 32 hr 55 min.

Northbound the Crescent carried coaches between New Orleans and Charlotte, North Carolina, arriving just after lunchtime in Atlanta and into Charlotte in early evening. North of there it carried sleepers only and made few stops, only to discharge passengers. (Any passenger boarding north of Charlotte was destined beyond Washington.) Arrival at Washington was about 4:00 a.m. but a sleeping car was uncoupled there and passengers could sleep until a more reasonable hour.

Southbound, early evening departures from Washington (which had left New York in mid-afternoon) ran all-Pullman from Washington and arrived the next morning in Atlanta. Though the train carried coaches (and made more stops) between Atlanta and New Orleans, it arrived in the early evening in the Crescent City to connect with the Sunset Limited for Texas and California. A through sleeper sometimes ran in these two trains, creating a transcontinental Pullman service in which a passenger's sleeping accommodation ran from New York City (or Washington) all the way to Los Angeles.

Eventually as passenger service dwindled the northbound "Crescent" was combined with the "Peach Queen", with coaches between Atlanta and New York. Southbound the "Crescent" was combined with the "Asheville Special" and the "Augusta Special" and included coaches between New York and Charlotte. It also carried "deadhead" coaches to Atlanta to return north on the "Crescent."

Late 20th century

As Southern's railway partners sought to discontinue passenger services, Southern Railway rerouted the train to an all-Southern route and operated the train as the Southern Crescent between Washington, DC's Union Station and New Orleans. The Southern Crescent inaugurated service in 1970 by combining two trains that had run separately between New York and New Orleans for decades: the Southerner, which ran over the Southern Railway only, between New Orleans and Atlanta via Birmingham; and the original Crescent, which had previously used Atlanta and West Point Railroad, Western Railway of Alabama and Louisville and Nashville Railroad trackage between New Orleans and Atlanta via Mobile. For the combined Southern Crescent, Southern moved the train to the Birmingham route instead of the Mobile route. This routing not only permitted the continuance of the train from Washington, DC to New Orleans; it allowed the Southern to maintain its passenger service standards and the dispatch reliability that inhered from moving the train exclusively over its own rails and system, from the start, to finish of its run.

Meanwhile, the A&WP, Western of Alabama, and L&N continued to run the Crescent between Atlanta and New Orleans. Each morning, the Crescent and the Southern Crescent departed Atlanta for New Orleans over different routes. After November 1968, the Crescent was a coach-only train sustained by two storage mail cars. With the discontinuance of the "Humming Bird" on January 9, 1969, it was run combined with the Pan-American south of Montgomery, leaving Atlanta at 7:15 p. m. on the old "Piedmont Limited" schedule. In 1970, with the mail contract cancelled, the Crescent was discontinued.

Southern Railway, a predecessor of Norfolk Southern, initially opted out of Amtrak in 1971. After May 1, 1971, Amtrak, assuming the services of the Penn Central, carried the Southern Crescent between New York and Washington.

The Southern Crescent was one of the two last privately operated long-distance passenger services in the United States. The other was the Rio Grande Zephyr, which operated until 1983. But, revenue losses and equipment-replacement expenses forced Southern Railway to leave the passenger business and turn over operation of the train to Amtrak on February 1, 1979. It simplified the name to the Crescent.

21st century

When Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in August 2005, the Crescent was temporarily truncated to Atlanta. Service was restored first as far as Meridian, Mississippi as an interim measure, as Norfolk Southern crews worked to repair the damage to their lines serving the Gulf Coast. Amtrak restored service to New Orleans on October 9, 2005 with the northbound Crescent's 7:05 AM departure; the first southbound arrival occurred later in the day.[5]

In its present-day form, the southbound Crescent leaves New York in mid-afternoon and Washington DC in the early evening, passing through the Carolinas overnight for arrival at breakfast-time in Atlanta, lunch-time in Birmingham, and early evening at New Orleans. In the northbound direction, the train leaves New Orleans at breakfast time and arrives New York early the following afternoon.[6]

In the January 2011 issue of Trains Magazine, this route was listed as one of five routes to be looked at by Amtrak in FY 2011 as the previous five routes (Sunset, Eagle, Zephyr, Capitol, and Cardinal) were examined in FY 2010.[7]


The tracks used were once part of the Pennsylvania Railroad; Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad; and Southern Railway systems; they are now owned by Amtrak, CSX Transportation, and Norfolk Southern Railway, respectively. The following lines are used:


A usual consist on the Crescent is as follows:

During the winter months this consist is reversed.

Station stops

State/Province Town/City Station Connections
New York New York City Penn Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Adirondack, Cardinal, Carolinian, Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Keystone Service, Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf, Northeast Regional, Palmetto, Pennsylvanian, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
LIRR: Main Line, Port Washington Branch
NJ Transit: North Jersey Coast Line, Northeast Corridor Line, Gladstone Branch, Montclair-Boonton Line, Morristown Line
NYC Subway: 1 2 3 A C E trains
NYC Transit buses: M4, M7, M20, M34 / M34A Select Bus Service, Q32
New Jersey Newark Newark Penn Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Cardinal, Carolinian, Keystone Service, Northeast Regional, Palmetto, Pennsylvanian, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
NJ Transit: Newark City Subway, Newark Light Rail, North Jersey Coast Line, Northeast Corridor Line, Raritan Valley Line, 5, 21, 62, 67, 70, 71, 72, 73, 75, 76, 78, 79, 308, 319, 361, 375, 378
Trenton Trenton Rail Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Cardinal, Carolinian, Keystone Service, Northeast Regional, Palmetto, Pennsylvanian, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Vermonter
NJ Transit: Northeast Corridor Line, River Line, 409, 418, 600, 601, 604, 606, 608, 609, 611, 619
SEPTA Regional Rail: Trenton Line
SEPTA Suburban Transit Division: 127
Pennsylvania Philadelphia 30th Street Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Cardinal, Carolinian, Keystone Service, Northeast Regional, Palmetto, Pennsylvanian, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
NJ Transit: Atlantic City Line
SEPTA City Transit Division: Market-Frankford Line, Route 10, Route 11, Route 13, Route 34, Route 36, 9, 10, 11, 13, 30, 31, 34, 36, 44, 62, 121, 124, 125, 316
SEPTA Regional Rail: Airport Line, Warminster Line, Wilmington/Newark Line, West Trenton Line, Media/Elwyn Line, Lansdale/Doylestown Line, Paoli/Thorndale Line, Manayunk/Norristown Line, Cynwyd Line, Trenton Line, Chestnut Hill East Line, Chestnut Hill West Line, Fox Chase Line
Delaware Wilmington Wilmington Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Cardinal, Carolinian, Northeast Regional, Palmetto, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
DART First State: 2, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 20, 21, 28, 32, 301
SEPTA Regional Rail: Wilmington/Newark Line
Maryland Baltimore Baltimore Penn Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Cardinal, Carolinian, Northeast Regional, Palmetto, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
MARC Train: Penn Line
MTA Maryland: Light Rail, 3, 11, 61, 64
District of Columbia Washington Washington Union Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, Carolinian, Northeast Regional, Palmetto, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter, Thruway Motorcoach to Charlottesville, Virginia
MARC Train: Brunswick Line, Camden Line, Penn Line
VRE: Manassas Line, Fredericksburg Line
Metro: Red Line
Metrobus: D3, D6, D8, X1, X2, X8, X9, 80, 96, 97
DC Circulator: Georgetown, Navy Yard
MTA Maryland: 903, 922
Loudoun County Transit: Loudoun County
PRTC: Dale City
Virginia Alexandria Alexandria Union Station Amtrak: Cardinal, Carolinian, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star
VRE: Fredericksburg Line, Manassas Line Metro: Blue Line, Yellow Line
Manassas Manassas Amtrak: Cardinal, Northeast Regional
VRE: Manassas Line
Culpeper Culpeper Amtrak: Cardinal, Northeast Regional
Charlottesville Charlottesville Union Station Amtrak: Cardinal, Thruway Motorcoach to Richmond, Virginia and Washington, D.C., Northeast Regional
CAT: T, 7
Greyhound Lines
Lynchburg Lynchburg - Kemper Street Station Amtrak: Northeast Regional
Danville Danville none
North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Amtrak: Carolinian and Piedmont
High Point High Point Amtrak: Carolinian and Piedmont, Thruway Motorcoach to Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Salisbury Salisbury Amtrak: Carolinian and Piedmont
Charlotte Charlotte Amtrak: Carolinian and Piedmont
CATS Bus Lines: 11
Gastonia Gastonia none
South Carolina Spartanburg Spartanburg
Greenville Greenville
Clemson Clemson CAT: Red
Georgia Toccoa Toccoa none
Gainesville Gainesville Red Rabbit bus: Route 1 (at Main/Martin Luther King Jr intersection)
Atlanta Brookwood MARTA Bus: 110 "The Peach"
Alabama Anniston Anniston none
Birmingham Birmingham
Tuscaloosa Tuscaloosa
Mississippi Meridian Meridian
Laurel Laurel
Hattiesburg Hattiesburg
Picayune Picayune
Louisiana Slidell Slidell
New Orleans New Orleans Amtrak: City of New Orleans, Sunset Limited

Popular culture

  • The Southern Crescent is referenced in R.E.M.'s song Driver 8
  • The Drover's Old Time Medicine Show released a song "Southern Crescent" on their "Sunday at Prater's Creek" album.
  • Singer-Songwriter Scott Miller's song "Amtrack Crescent" tells the story of a down-and-out man traveling the Crescent from New Orleans to New York.

See also



  • Schafer, Mike; Amtrak's atlas, Trains June 1991

External links

  • Southern Crescent takes sentimental journey
  • Southern High-Speed Rail Commission
  • , August 1950, at Streamliner Schedules
  • , April 1971, at Streamliner Schedules
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