Home / CRUISING THE PAST / Part 2 – The Panama Limited – Streamlined and 16 hours between Chicago, St Louis and New Orleans
Part 2 – The Panama Limited – Streamlined and 16 hours between Chicago, St Louis and New Orleans

Part 2 – The Panama Limited – Streamlined and 16 hours between Chicago, St Louis and New Orleans

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The Panama Limited was streamlined in 1942, during World War II.

  • The Illinois Central had ordered two lightweight sets of equipment before the attack on Pearl Harbor; after an appeal, the War Production Board allowed their delivery.

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Casey Jones widow with Panama Limited train Engineer and Conductor. 

  • The first diesel/electric-powered streamlined run of the Panama Limited was on May 3, 1942, on an 18-hour schedule.
  • On hand for the first run was Janie Jones, the widow of famed engineer Casey Jones.

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The Panama Limited carried a new orange-and-black paint scheme which later became standard on Illinois Central passenger trains.

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  • The Panama Limited was for many years the premier, first-class luxury train of the Illinois Central on its Chicago–New Orleans route. All-Pullman in the consist, it left Chicago’s Central Station (a.k.a. Twelfth Street) promptly at 5:00 p.m.

For the duration of World War 2, the Illinois Central dropped the extra fare. In June 1946 the schedule fell to 17 hours; later the schedule was reduced to 16 hours, 30 minutes again with the extra-fare.

In 1952 the Illinois Central acquired several 2-unit 175-foot dining cars from the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad which it used on the Panama.
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Dining Car
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Parlor Car
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Lounge Car
167f4a32fe6d56d35aa39a0ec8e55938Maintaining a high level of service until the Amtrak era, the Panama Limited was noted for its dining car service, with an excellent culinary staff and Creole fare in the Vieux Carre themed dining cars, a service which the Illinois Central marketed heavily.

In the 1960s, the Panama Limited became one of the fast-dwindling numbers of all-Pullman luxury trains in the early 1960s. The train was best known for two things: punctuality and the King’s Dinner. The train’s precise timekeeping was legendary.

Wayne Johnston was the IC president from 1945 to 1966.

He was so insistent about the Panama’s on-time performance that, if he could still see the train’s observation car from his office high above the platform tracks at Chicago’s Central Station at 5:01 p.m. (departure was scheduled for 5 o’clock sharp), he would immediately be on the phone questioning station personnel about the delay.

ThScan 2_Fotore legendary King’s Dinner was a late addition to the train’s repertoire, in the mid-1960s. For $9.85—in those days an eye-opening sum to spend on a single dinner—a diner patron received a cocktail, appetizer, a shrimp cocktail, a fish course, a main entree of charcoal-broiled steak with potato and vegetable, a post-entree salad, bread, sliced apple and cheese, coffee and wine, an after-dinner liqueur, and an exclusive King’s Dinner lapel pin to prove the undertaking.

For $9.85—in those days an eye-opening sum to spend on a single dinner—a diner patron received a cocktail, appetizer, a shrimp cocktail, a fish course, a main entree of charcoal-broiled steak with potato and vegetable, a post-entree salad, bread, sliced apple and cheese, coffee and wine, an after-dinner liqueur, and an exclusive King’s Dinner lapel pin to prove the undertaking.

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With the Pennsylvania’s Broadway Limited it was one of the last two “all-Pullman” trains in the United States.

On October 29, 1967, the Illinois Central added coaches to the Panama Limited, although it attempted to save face by designating the coaches the Magnolia Star.

The Illinois Central dropped this separate designation on December 13, 1968.

The Illinois Central petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to end the train altogether on November 23, 1970, but the ICC deferred the request pending the startup of Amtrak.

The final day of operation of the Panama Limited by the Illinois Central Railroad was 30 April 1971.

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About Michael L. Grace