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Amtrak Returns to New Orleans

Amtrak (search) resumed passenger rail service to New Orleans on Saturday, bringing mass ground transportation back to the city for the first time since Hurricane Katrina (search).

The train called the City of New Orleans (search) arrived with 29 passengers aboard, greeted by a handful of well-wishers, after leaving Chicago late Thursday.

As he stepped off the train, Marty Robinson, of Paducah, Ky., sank to his knees, sang a song and proposed to his girlfriend as she greeted him. She accepted.

"I'm nervous. I'm shaking," said Lorraine Talbot of Houma, La., who embraced the man who sang songs to her by phone in the weeks since the storm.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said he expected more than 30 passengers to arrive Sunday and that "the business will grow steadily but slowly over the next several weeks." Greater numbers of passengers are expected next year, after tracks to the east are repaired. Service to the west should resume before that, he said.

"This helps return the area to some normalcy," Magliari said. "We're far from normal here right now. But each step toward normalcy is important."

Jimmy Elliott, 63, leaned on his cane as he was helped off the train. He was returning from Chicago for the first time since evacuating on Aug. 28.

"There's no place like home," he said.

Elliott said he was told his home in the Algiers neighborhood on the city's West Bank did not sustain much damage, but he still gazed through the train window as it arrived.

"I was trying to see what I was coming home to," he said.

Michael Anderson, 21, a senior airman in the Air Force, was visiting from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, after returning from a four-month tour in Iraq.

He first tried to get a flight, but an early winter storm that dumped heavy snow across the northern Plains canceled those plans, forcing him to get on a train to Chicago to catch the City of New Orleans.

Waiting for him were his 15-year-old brother, 12-year-old sister and mother, Paulette Anderson, who cried as they embraced.

"I'm so happy he's home," she said. "It's a good day."

Another train, the Crescent from New York, was expected to arrive later Saturday. It will also be the first train to depart New Orleans on Sunday en route to Meridian, Miss., Birmingham, Ala., Atlanta and other stops on the way back to New York.