Ed Driscoll

Off The Tracks

Richie Havens, earning a few extra bucks doing voiceover work sang as the theme of a memorable ad campaign for Amtrak about 20 years ago, “There’s something about a train that’s magic”. Evidently the city of New Orleans didn’t agree:

Nagin did not tell everyone to leave immediately, because the regional plan called for the suburbs to empty out first, but he did urge residents in particularly low-lying areas to “start moving — right now, as a matter of fact.” He said the Superdome would be open as a shelter of last resort, but essentially he told tourists stranded in the Big Easy that they were out of luck.

“The only thing I can say to them is I hope they have a hotel room, and it’s a least on the third floor and up,” Nagin said. “Unfortunately, unless they can rent a car to get out of town, which I doubt they can at this point, they’re probably in the position of riding the storm out.”

In fact, while the last regularly scheduled train out of town had left a few hours earlier, Amtrak had decided to run a “dead-head” train that evening to move equipment out of the city. It was headed for high ground in Macomb, Miss., and it had room for several hundred passengers. “We offered the city the opportunity to take evacuees out of harm’s way,” said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black. “The city declined.”

So the ghost train left New Orleans at 8:30 p.m., with no passengers on board.

Amtrak was created by the federal government during President Nixon’s administration–so it’s not too late for the media to spin this one as yet another fault of a Republican president.