Part 1 – The Panama Limited – Chicago to New Orleans – History of the All-Pullman famous streamliner!

Part 1 – The Panama Limited – Chicago to New Orleans – History of the All-Pullman famous streamliner!


The Panama Limited was a passenger train operated by the Illinois Central Railroad between Chicago, Illinois and New Orleans, Louisiana. It operated from 1911 to 1971.

  • This is a two-part history of the famous streamliner. 


The Panama Limited speeding south during the 1940s.

  • The Panama Limited took its name from the Panama Canal, then under construction and three years from completion. For most of its career, the train was “all-Pullman,” carrying sleeping cars only. It was one of many trains discontinued when Amtrak began operations in 1971; though Amtrak would revive the service in late 1971 and continue it until 1981.
  • Today the Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, another former Illinois Central train, provides overnight service between Chicago and New Orleans.

Early Years of the Panama Limited…

In the early 1900s, the Illinois Central’s premier train on the Chicago-New Orleans route was the Chicago and New Orleans Limited.


Newspaper ad announcing the Panama Limited

  • On February 4, 1911, the Illinois Central renamed this train the Panama Limited, in honor of the anticipated opening of the Panama Canal.
  • The train included a St. Louis, Missouri section which connected at Carbondale, Illinois.


The Panama Limited – Early 1900s

  • The train was first-class only north of Memphis, Tennessee.
  • It carried through sleepers for Hot Springs, Arkansas and San Antonio, Texas.
  • It made the journey in 25 hours.

In 1912 the train was replaced with an all-steel, all electric consist.

  • The Illinois Central relaunched the train on November 15, 1916, with new equipment and a new schedule: 23 hours from Chicago to New Orleans.
  • The new train carried sleeping cars only for its entire route.


The Panama Limited was considered the finest train in the USA

  • The train’s old equipment and schedule became a new train, the Louisiana.


Dining Car


Buffet Smoking Car

  • The Great Depression led the Illinois Central to discontinue the luxurious Panama Limited between May 28, 1932, and December 2, 1934.


Pullman Car on the Panama Limited.


A Pullman section on the Panama Limited.


The Panama Limited was vital connection for travel from the South to New York

  • When it returned, it had the new air-conditioning equipment and an improved 20-hour schedule between Chicago and New Orleans.


Dining in the 1930s on the Panama Limited



  • Read more about the new streamlined PANAMA LIMITED in Part 2 of this series next week on Cruising The Past… 



About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…