Railroad Operations Past and Present
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The Pontchartrain Railroad was chartered in 1830 and ran along what is now Elysian Fields Avenue for over a hundred years.
Southern, NONE, NOTC, NS
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Amtrak Training to Mobile operates a special consist.
The national passenger railroad runs a two-locomotive, two-car training consist between New Orleans and Mobile. Crews prepare for the resumption of passenger service between the two cities. The train’s been running daily, in spite of the lack of a passenger stop/station in Mobile at this time.
Amtrak service to Mobile operated as an extension of the Sunset Limited between New Orleans and Jacksonville. That service stopped after Hurricane Katrina. This “training train” has the following consist
- AMTK 33, P42DC “Genesis”
- Bag-Dorm car
- Horizon coach
- AMTK 38, P42DC “Genesis”
The Genesis locos operate from New Orleans on all three of the city’s trains, Crescent, City of New Orleans, and sunset Limited. the Crescent uses a bag-dorm car on its daily service to New York (NYP).
The coach on this consist is AMTK 54534. Here’s the update section on the Horzon’s Wikipedia entry:
As of November 2020, the Horizon coach cars primarily are used on trains based out of Amtrak’s Chicago division including the Illinois Service (Carl Sandburg, Illini, Illinois Zephyr, Lincoln Service & Saluki), Michigan Services (Blue Water & Wolverine), Hiawatha and Missouri River Runner.
So, Amtrak brought Horizons down from the Chicago area to New Orleans via the City of New Orleans.
Amtrak took over the L&N station in Mobile in 1971. Prior to that, the Southern Crescent ran through Mobile, on its way to Atlanta. The L&N operated the Gulf Wind, Pan-American, and the Hummingbird through Mobile. Amtrak discontinued service through the city in 1971. They resumed service in 1984. Also from Wikipedia:
Amtrak service began with the Gulf Coast Limited, which operated between 1984 and 1985 and called at the station. Mobile then served as the southern terminus of the Gulf Breeze train starting in 1989. The Sunset Limited began stopping here in 1993, and the Gulf Breeze was discontinued in 1995. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded the station and Amtrak discontinued the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans.
The railroad is now poised to resume service to the Florida Panhandle. Mobile is the only city lacking a station/stop at this time. Construction of a new station is in progress as training crews work the line. The Amtrak training consist is “double-ended.” So, it travels to Mobile, then the crew mans the loco on the other end for the return.
There’s a City of New Orleans hitchhiker heading into NOL.
City of New Orleans Hitchhiker
Amtrak’s City of New Orleans #59 (Southbound) at Central Avenue in Jefferson, Louisiana, 19-October-2023. AMTK 50, AMTK 135, P42DC Genesis locomotives, pull the train. The consist is typical for current City operations. The train is about fifteen minutes out of Union Passenger Terminal (NOL). I included the gates in this video, to quiet the grumpy people who frequent my NOLA History Guy page.
An old Horizon coach car brings up the rear, connected to the Superliners via the transition sleeper. The railroad currently runs a training/test train from NOL to Mobile. Crews train for the new extension of the Sunset Limited to Mobile. This is the first time since Huricane Katrina that trains operate East of New Orleans. Historically, Louisville and Nashville operated trains from New Orleans to Mobile, handling mail contracts. While the original Southern Pacific Sunset Limited ran from Los Angeles to New Orleans, Amtrak extended the route to Jacksonville in the 1990s. So much of that track was damaged, if not wiped out, by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Amtrak encountered political opposition from the governor of Alabama when proposing to renew service. They worked out those issues. Now, crews prepare for extended passenger service.
The City of New Orleans #59 departs an hour later than regular schedule, and the Northbound #58 departs NOL an hour later as well. Canadian National is performing track maintenance. So, the Amtrak trains are delayed from 18-October to 22-November-2023. T
here are no changes in the trains, just a later start time. The second video is #59 coming past Central Avenue on 20-October-2023
AMTK 315, a Siemens Charger, is in the lead. Amtrak ran two Chargers on the City for several weeks, now they’re back to a single locomotive. The consist is typical. Amtrak #59 wrestles with not only track work but gate crossing issues. As this train approached, the gate went down as expected. The train came to a stop, though. So, the gates went up. The train approached much slower than normal. The gates went back down and #59 proceeded.
A back belt fire disrupts trains and autos.
Back Belt fire
A back belt fire broke out on the Canal Boulevard underpass on Monday, 2-October-2023, around 6pm. NOFD documented the fire on Twitter. By Wednesday, 4-October, the damage to the tracks appears to be repaired.
I learned of the incident on Tuesday, when I went to my regular coffee shop, PJ’s, at 5555 Canal Boulevard. The coffee shop stands right next to the underpass. One of the baristas showed me video taken by the barista working Monday evening. Crazy!
The New Orleans Terminal Company (NOTC) constructed “Back Belt” in 1908. It got its name because it’s in the “back” of town relative to the “Public Belt” tracks which run along the river. Southern Railway acquired NOTC in 1916. Southern later merged to become present-day Norfolk-Southern Railroad. In 1939-1940, the Works Progress Administration built a series of underpasses along the Back Belt. The tracks have no grade crossings for its entire run through the city. So, the coffee shop offers a great vantage point for train-watching.
NOFD reported they do not know what caused the fire. Heat warped the track towards the eastern end of the underpass.
When Amtrak’s Crescent departed town on Tuesday morning, the train came out of the access track that runs along I-10 (between the highway and the cemeteries). When it approached the underpass, the train backed up, so it could cross over to the northern track on the Back Belt.
By Wednesday, the tracks appeared to be repaired as a westbound train pulled by Union Pacific engines moved across the underpass. An eastbound CSX train crossed at the same time.
Here’s this morning’s Crescent #20, crossing over the repaired tracks. Caption from YouTube:
Amtrak’s Crescent #20, ten minutes out of Union Passenger Terminal (NOL). AMTK 199, a P-42 Genesis, and AMTK 164, painted in “Phase IV Heritage” livery. Standard consist, two Genesis, 3 Viewliner coaches, 1 cafe, 2 sleepers, and a bag-dorm bringing up the rear. The train’s moving slower than normal out of concern for the rail replacements made on 3-Tues-2023 because of a track fire.
So, freight and passenger traffic appears to be back.
Siemens Chargers on the City of New Orleans
Siemens Chargers at work
ALC-42, Siemens Chargers, operate now on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans route. AMTK 300 and AMTK126 pull the City out of Union Passenger Terminal, New Orleans, 19-October-2022. The blue-liveried Charger has the lead. While the City usually operates with a single engine, AMTK 126, an older General Electric P42DC “Genesis” engine, deadheads on the northern route. Illinois Central operated the City of New Orleans from 1947 to 1971. IC’s primary train from Chicago to New Orleans was the all-sleeper, Panama Limited. So, they added the City as a lower-cost alternative. Amtrak took the route over in 1971.
The two engines pull seven Superliner cars: 2 sleepers, 1 lounge car, and 4 coaches. The Superliners are double-decker passenger cars. Amtrak uses them outside the Northeast Corridor. Trains going to the NEC use single-level “Viewliner” equipment. While the City operated with a diner car prior to the pandemic, it continues to only offer snack bar service in the lounge car. Passengers order from the snack bar via the Amtrak phone app. They pick up their food and return to their seat or compartment.
Additionally, a Viewliner (single-level) car brings up the rear of #58 here. “American View” operates as an “inspection car.” This train pulls it up the former Illinois Central (now Canadian National) route to Chicago. More on American View in an upcoming post.
Amtrak’s City of New Orleans #59 19-October-2022, fifteen minutes from arrival at Union Passenger Terminal, New Orleans (NOL). The train, pulled by Siemens Charger AMTK 312, approaches Central Avenue in Jefferson, Louisiana, with one sleeper, one lounge, and five coaches, all Superliners. This is the southbound train. It departed Chicago the day before. The two trains, 58 and 59, meet each other just outside of town. When things run on schedule, it’s easy to wait a bit after 58 to catch 59.
Catalpa Falls – Private railcar running on the Amtrak Crescent.
Private railcar Catalpa Falls, bringing up the rear of the Amtrak Crescent #20 (Northbound), 27-January-2022. Catalpa Falls is a 1949-vintage 6-double-bedroom/lounge car, built for the Pennsylvania Railroad by the Pullman Company. The car ran on the PRR signature train, Broadway Limited, from 1949 to 1967. Amtrak sold the car off when it took over passenger operations in 1971. Catalpa Falls operates as a private charter car now. While Catalpa Falls was built by Pullman-Standard, Budd also made similar cars.
The Broadway Limited
The Pennsylvania Railroad operated the Broadway Limited from New York to Chicago, from 1912 to 1971. So, Amtrak continued the route from 1971 to 1995. In 1995, the national passenger railroad discontinued the route. By 1995, Amtrak lost over $18 million a year on the Broadway Limited. The Three Rivers replaced the train in 1995. Amtrak later discontinued the Three Rivers. The Lake Shore Limited now offers daily service from New York to Chicago.
According to its Wikipedia entry, the Broadway Limited in 1956 ran a 14-car consist:
The February 1956 Official Guide listed the westbound Broadway Limited (Train 29) consist as having fourteen cars normally assigned: nine sleeping cars between New York and Chicago, one additional sleeping car from New York continuing through to Los Angeles on the Santa Fe’s Super Chief, the twin-unit dining car, lounge car, and observation car.
One of the sleeping cars at the time was Catalpa Falls. Additionally, PRR ordered replacements for their 1938 Broadway Limited trainsets in 1946, after World War II. Pullman-Standard delivered the cars in 1949.
Restored to original
Executive Rail, a division of Catalpa Falls Group, LLC, owns the railcar. The company restored the car to its mid-century glory. While Catalpa Falls contains modern amenities such as flat-screen televisions and wi-fi Internet service, they’re worked in so they don’t detract from the experience.
Like a number of private cars, Executive Rail offers passengers a throwback to a golden age of passenger rail. Instead of the usual Amtrak sleeper cars, Catalpa Falls tempts the traveler with a more elegant form of rail travel.
AMTK 100, in Midnight Blue Anniversary livery.
Midnight Blue Anniversary
Caught the third of six Amtrak’s P42-DC “Genesis” locomotives painted to celebrate the railroad’s fiftieth anniversary, pulling the Crescent. This is AMTK 100, along with AMTK 817, heading out of New Orleans, Saturday morning, 18-December-2021. The Crescent rolls over Canal Boulevard in the Lakeview neighborhood. Like any good Midnight Blue color scheme, the engine looks almost black.
Six 50th Schemes
Amtrak painted six engines for the anniversary:
- Genesis P42 #46 in “Phase V 50th” – The standard Amtrak livery for the past two decades with our “Connecting America for 50 Years.” The logo includes a large golden yellow 50.
- AMTK 100 P42 in “Midnight Blue”: An all new one-of-a-kind paint scheme! Midnight Blue Anniversary celebrates the dedication and commitment of Amtrak employees. They move people around the clock and across the nation.
- Genesis P42 in “Phase VI” – The first adaptation of the latest Amtrak livery phase on a P42.
- P42 in “Phase I” – A rendition of Amtrak’s first livery phase dating back to 1972.
- P42 in “Dash 8 Phase III” – The award-winning livery designed for the Dash 8 locomotive. The fleet wore this in the early 90s. This is the livery’s first use on a P42 locomotive.
- ALC-42 #301 in “Day 1” scheme – A historic throwback to the unique design created for the first day of operations on May 1, 1971, applied to Amtrak’s newest locomotive.
So far, three of the six passed through New Orleans. AMTK 46, in the Phase V livery, a slightly modified version of the go-to scheme. AMTK 161 bears the Phase I livery. This was the first scheme after all the “heritage” equipment was assimilated. Most recently, AMTK 100, Midnight Blue Anniversary.
We won’t see AMTK 301 here, because the “Charger” models don’t run on any of the three routes that originate in New Orleans, the Crescent, City of New Orleans, and the Sunset Limited. My personal favorite (and I hope it gets here) is the “Dash 8 Phase III.” The Dash 8 locos used it in the 90s. We used to see Dash 8s on the Crescent, as second engines, but they were in Phase V livery by that time.
Happy Anniversary, Amtrak!
Amtrak’s Superliners Viewliners, and an anniversary locomotive.
Two passenger rail videos for y’all today, Amtrak’s City of New Orleans and the Crescent. The City of New Orleans travels up to Chicago, and the Crescent to New York City’s Penn Station. The train to Chicago carries passengers on Superliner equipment. The Crescent uses Viewliner equipment.
Monday Morning Rails
Amtrak #58, the City of New Orleans, is a direct descendant of the Illinois Central Railroad (ICRR) route of the same name. While the ICRR considered the Panama Limited their premier route, Amtrak went with the “local” train’s name. They believed Arlo Guthrie’s version of the song would be better for marketing.
AMTK 37, a GE P42DC “Genesis” locomotive, pulled the City out of New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal (NOL) on 18-November-2021.
Amtrak operates two-level Superliner equipment outside of routes in and out of the Northeast Corridor. The railroad ordered 235 Superliners from Pullman-Standard in 1975. Employees of the US’s national passenger railroad chose the name, “Vistaliner” for the equipment. They later learned that name was copyrighted, so the cars became Superliners.The “Phase I” cars entered service in 1978.
Passengers embraced the Superliners with the same enthusiasm Santa Fe travelers embraced the old “Hi-Level” cars operated by that railroad in the 1950s and 1960s. So, Amtrak chalked them up as a success. Additionally, the railroad ordered additional Superliners in 1991. This time, the contract went to manufacturer Bombardier. The City rolled with Superliners in 1994. This past summer, Amtrak invested $28M in upgrades to the Superliner fleet.
Amtrak interited single-level passenger cars from passenger-train operators in 1971. So, they referred to these cars as “heritage” equipment. In the railroad’s first years, So, the Crescent continued operating with Southern Railway cars. While the heritage equipment remained the railroad’s backbone, Amtrak standardized the paint scheme to the red-white-and-blue stripe livery by 1974. While the Superliners excited rail passengers, the bi-level cars were too high for operation in the Northeast Corridor (NEC). Amtrak had concerns about the cars clearing tunnels into New York Pennsylvania Station (NYP) and Baltimore Pennsylvania Station.
By the early 1980s, the heritage cars showed their age. Amtrak contracted the Budd Company to develop single-level equipment for the NEC. So, Budd prototypes operated on Amtrak routes. Production cars, named “Viewliner,” entered service in 1995 as Viewliner I. A second generation, Viewliner II, entered service in 2011.
So, New Orleans gets to see both types of Amtrak equipment. Since the Crescent travels to NYP, it uses Viewliners. The City of New Orleans and the NOLA-to-Los Angeles Sunset Limit run Superliners.
NYC 3 is a restored Executive Car from the New York Central.
NYC 3 on the Crescent
The northbound (#20) Crescent delivered a treat on Tuesday, 2-November. A “private varnish” car brought up the rear, NYC 3, named “Portland.” This railcar served a different purpose than “business cars” operated to this day by the railroads. NYC-3 was an “executive car.” The NYC built it specifically for one of the New York Central’s owners, Harold S. Vanderbilt. From the NYC-3 dot com website:
This railroad car, New York Central 3, was built for Harold Sterling Vanderbilt, who worked as a director of the railroad founded by his family three generations previously. The car, built in 1928, was a typical executive car of this grand era. Such cars were called “private varnish” because of their varnished woodwork and exclusive uses; they served as traveling offices and hotels, and were used for railroad inspections as well as for personal travel and for business entertainment. NYC 3 frequently played host to film celebrities, wealthy tycoons, and even presidential campaigners in what politicians of the day called “whistle-stop” tours: Trains would stop in small towns and politicians would give speeches from the back platform before waving goodbye as the train departed. Adlai Stevenson campaigned on NYC 3 in this manner in his 1956 campaign against President Eisenhower and, far more recently, opera singer Cecilia Bartoli enjoyed its comforts between New York and her West Coast debut in Los Angeles.
VarChandra, Inc. currently owns NYC 3.
Private Cars in New Orleans
Like many aspects of the pandemic, private varnish re-appears on the rails. So, train-watchers report sightings on Amtrak fan pages (Facebook). New Orleans offers three opportunities to catch private cars. Charters come down from the Northeast on the Crescent. Some make a loop, traveling north again on the City of New Orleans, then return to New York Penn or other points in the NEC. The cars usually travel the Broadway Limited to get back east.
Some cars continue west on the Sunset Limited. Back in the early part of the 20th century, the Southern and Southern Pacific offered “through car” service from New York to Los Angeles. Private varnish currently follows the Crescent-to-Sunset path.
Amtrak’s 50th anniversary celebrated by the Crescent #20.
Amtrak Crescent #20 celebrates
Amtrak Crescent #20, about 20 minutes after departing Union Passenger Terminal, New Orleans (NOL). P42DCs AMTK 75 and 161 pull a consist of 3 coaches, 1 cafe’ car, 2 sleepers, and 2 bag-dorms (one is a deadhead).
AMTK 75 is in the standard Genesis livery. The railroad re-painted AMTK 161 in “Phase 1” livery, with a “50” badge marking 2021 as Amtrak’s 50th anniversary year. Amtrak ran the “Phase 1” livery from 1972 to 1974. At this time, the railroad continued use of passenger rail equipment from other operators.
The Amtrak Crescent continues over a century of service from New Orleans to New York City. Southern Railway (now Norfolk Southern, due to mergers) operated the route as the New York & New Orleans Limited in 1906. By 1925, they changed the name of the route to the Crescent Limited. Amtrak named the train simply, the Crescent. It’s not a “limited” route, as it stops in a number of small towns along the way.
The northbound train is #20, the southbound, #19. The train travels from NOL to New York Penn Station (NYP). The full trip takes about a day and a half, but riding the Crescent to Atlanta makes for a fun one-day ride.
Crescent in New Orleans
My usual haunt for taking train pictures is the PJ’s Coffee Shop at 5555 Canal Boulevard, in New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood. The coffee shop is right next to the Norfolk Southern “Back Belt” tracks. These two tracks run through all of New Orleans, from the parish line in the West to Lake Pontchartrain and the “five mile bridge” without grade crossings. Streets use underpasses or overpasses to cross the tracks. The original route of the Crescent Limited left New Orleans via Louisville and Nashville tracks. Since 1954, the train arrives/departs from Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue. Additionally, the City of New Orleans and the Sunset Limited arrive/depart from NOL.
So, usually I’m lazy and just shoot the trains crossing the overpass. This particular morning, I drove over to Marconi Blvd. As you can see there’s a grassy area as the Back Belt approaches the outfall canal and pumping station.
If you’re a YouTuber, check out the Pontchartrain Railroad channel!
Norfolk Southern MOW equipment on the New Orleans #BackBelt.
Norfolk Southern MOW
Maintenance-Of-Way (MOW) equipment seen recently on the Norfolk Southern “Back Belt.” This equipment does crack clearing and ballast balancing.
One of my regular train-watching spots is at the Canal Boulevard underpass on the Norfolk Southern “Back Belt.” The PJ’s Coffee at 5555 Canal has some of the best baristas in the city. I sit out at the end table on the patio, which is wonderfully socially distant. Additionally, that corner offers a great view of the underpass.
The Back Belt
This section of Norfolk Southern track in New Orleans derives its name from its location. The tracks along the Mississippi River in the area are the “Public Belt.” The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad owns most, if not all, of the trackage along the river. The state created NOPBRR to avoid fights between railroads. Everyone shares the tracks along the wharves and warehouses.
So, if the “Public Belt” is the “front” set of tracks, the Norfolk Southern cross-town tracks are in the “back.” The Back Belt links yards in the West with the NS Gentilly Yard and the CSX yard in New Orleans East. Additionally, westbound trains travel along the Back Belt to the “five mile bridge” over Lake Pontchartrain.
The Back Belt stays busy. Short consists move freight in both directions. Amtrak’s Crescent (New Orleans to New York City) departs Union Passenger Terminal downtown, then travels the back belt out of town. NS monitors track conditions. They repair track when necessary.
So, these two MOW vehicles pop up, heading eastbound at Canal Boulevard. They get to the western side of the underpass and stop. I took one photo, expecting them to continue eastbound. But like a raccoon in an overturned trashcan, they backed up, heading out of sight. Oh well, I got the one photo.
Fast forward two weeks later, the same thing happens! I managed to get another photo. A few days later, I spotted the same vehicles at the mouth of the old Bernadotte Street Yard, further down on Canal Boulevard. The Bernadotte Yard connected to the Back Belt behind Greenwood Cemetery. The original plan was to build a wye here, but it ended up being only two of the three sides. Still, the MOW vehicles could park on the old yard entrance track. They curved up onto the eastbound Back Belt. From there, they switch from the wye curve and head West.