The Southern Railway refused to join Amtrak in 1971, as Southern President Graham Claytor decided that, “We could afford to keep our primary train and make it the finest in the country.” The Crescent ran daily overnight from Washington to Atlanta, and three days a week it continued to New Orleans where it met (and exchanged a sleeping car with) Amtrak’s Sunset Limited. People who rode the Sunset and continued on the Crescent, as I did when I collected this timetable in 1978, noted a distinct upgrade in service, as the Crescent was more genteel and reflective of Southern hospitality.
Claytor left the Southern in 1977 and his successor passed the train to Amtrak in 1979. I rode the train shortly after and it still had the same personnel and the same quality service, but the food was a step down. Graham Claytor went on to become president of Amtrak in 1982, a position he held for 11 years, longer than any other Amtrak CEO. Coincidentally, Amtrak has its own copy of this particular timetable available for download on its web site.
The Sunset Limited and Southern Crescent didn’t have a close connection in New Orleans. Eastbound the layover was 10 hours and westbound it was 17. This made it a good way to enjoy an evening in the Big Easy. Coach passengers had to take their belongings with them but sleeping car passengers could leave them on board the train, and sleep in the station overnight.
I was a poor student in 1978 and usually went coach, but I learned that if I bought a roomette from Lafayette, Louisiana to Meridian, Mississippi, I could use the train as my hotel. So I enjoyed dinner at Antoine’s and music at Preservation Hall with friends I had met on the train, returned to the car late at night, and woke up in the morning when the conductor came around to collect tickets.