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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.
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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.
AMTK Crescent plus ATIP car on the #backbelt in New Orleans
cross-posted to NOLA History Guy.
AMTK Crescent plus ATIP
Amtrak Crescent #20 Northbound on the NS #BackBelt, 15 minutes out of Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans (NOL). The red car directly behind the engines is DOTX 221, a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Automatic Track Inspection Program (ATIP) car. DOTX 221 was originally a VIA Rail (Canada) sleeper-lounge-buffet car. It was later sold to Hartwell Lowe Corporation, who operated it as private car, “Belle McKee.”
DOTX 221 uses the classic Tuscan Red livery of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). Norfolk Southern absorbed PRR. So, it’s good to see a bit of a shout-out to a classic livery.
Amtrak restricted special cars prior to the pandemic. The rules for hitching along on scheduled trains present challenges for most “private varnish” cars. Additionally, cars with open observation decks don’t fit the requirements at all. So, the number of special cars coming and going from New Orleans is limited.
While the private cars aren’t rolling, DOTX 221 continues its job. This car belongs to the Federal Railroad Administration. So, it’s not restricted.
The Automated Track Inspection Program (ATIP) cars operate as part of regularly scheduled trains. Rather than running special consists for track inspection, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) hitches rides. So, track inspection happens on a consistent basis. Trains run normally.
FRA hitches ATIP cars to Amtrak trains because they (usually) stick to schedule. They also move at a faster clip than freight consists. The FRA gets their data with minimal disruption.
Amtrak currently operates the following consist on the Northbound Crescent out of NOL:
- 2 Genesis engines
- 3 Coach cars
- 1 Cafe car
- 2 Sleepers
- 1 Bag-dorm car
Additionally, the Crescent still operates on a 3-trains-a-week schedule, cut back from daily, due to the pandemic. So, #20 departs NOL on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. It returns to NOL on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
Phase IV Heritage 184 in the lead on this morning’s Crescent #20
Phase IV Heritage 184
Status of the Crescent
- Two P42 Genesis engines
- Two coaches
- Cafe car
- One sleeper
The Crescent (Northbound #20) now runs three coaches and two sleepers. The diner car is gone for the foreseeable future, possibly permanently. The railroad set up remote ordering for food, via a phone app. Riders order from their seat/roomette/bedroom. When food is ready, the app notifies the rider. They return to their seat to eat.
The train still hauls the occasional deadhead car (extra bag-dorms lately), and occasionally a third engine.
In 2011, Amtrak painted several P42DC engines in earlier liveries. These “Heritage” units still bear those colors. I can’t remember when AMTK 184 pulled the Crescent. Usually, the special-livery engines we see out of NOL are 130 (Phase II), and the 42, in the “Veterans” livery.
Public Belt MOW Equipment at Central Avenue in Jefferson
Public Belt Equipment
Trainspotting is a great way to get outside and remain socially distant, particularly on a Saturday. Unless there’s a need for emergency track work, the area at Central Avenue, under the Earhart Expressway, is usually empty. This is my regular spot for catching the Sunset Limited as it heads up to the Huey P. Long Bridge. There’s always some kind of Maintenance-of-Way (MOW) equipment owned by the New Orleans Public Belt around.
Saw this vehicle yesterday (11-April). I don’t have a specific make/model for it, but I’ll check with the guys in the railroad history group. Not sure yet if the Milneburg Division needs this, or if I can find it in N-Scale.
This gas/fuel tank at Central Avenue is new, or new to me. I haven’t been over to this spot for about two months. It’s on the NOPB side of the tracks rather than CN. There was no specifics about its contents–looks like it’s still in the process of being installed.
And there’s the reason for the trip to Central Avenue, to catch the Sunset Limited #1, heading westbound out of NOL. The train departs Union Passenger Terminal at 0900CDT on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Like the Amtrak Crescent, the Sunset Limited operates now with a reduced consist.
I’m not sure about a three-day train trip in this age of the novel coronavirus. I suppose if you pay for a roomette and bring your own food, it would be better than the flying tube full of potentially-contaminated air. Even in Coach, if the train isn’t crowded, social distancing might work. Moving around presents a challenge, in that the aisle on a railcar is narrow by design.
This post is cross-posted to my Pontchartrain Railroad – N Scale site. I’m still working out how to handle stuff that crosses over. Prototype scenes and equipment are likely the biggest areas. If I see something that would work on my fictional railroad, then I’ll add it to that website.
Amtrak Crescent 08-April-2020 on the #BackBelt
Amtrak Crescent 08-April-2020
I usually catch the Crescent #20 (northbound) at my favorite coffee shop. That’s the PJ’s Coffee at 5555 Canal Blvd., in Lakeview. The coffee shop is right next to the Norfolk Southern (NS) “Back Belt.” Crescent #20 occasionally pulls special cars. Sometimes the train carries “private varnish,” old railcars restored by various entities. They charter the old cars to groups looking for an adventure. The Crescent periodically brings deadhead equipment to points north. Amtrak also attaches special cars as well.
In our period of curve-flattening to protect us all from the novel coronavirus, I’m naturally not going to the coffee shop. New Orleans City Park operates an nursery (not open to the public) back by the tracks. It has a parking lot that makes a great trainspotting location. Nobody works there between 0700-0730, so I pull up, catch the Crescent, and then get out before I’m annoying anyone.
Other trains on the #BackBelt
My observation point at the PJ’s is great for general train-watching. The Back Belt connects yards on both sides of the metro area. All the railroads run local freights, dropping off and picking up cars. Long-haul trains roll by as well. They often have 5-6 engines, since they have to get up and over the Mississippi River on the Huey P. Long Bridge. BNSF, UP, NS, and CSX regularly pass by.
The consist for Amtrak Crescent 08-April-2020 was small:
- Two P42 Genesis engines
- Two coaches
- Cafe car
- One sleeper
Compare this with the usual, pre-coronavirus consist:
- Two P42 engines
- Four coaches
- Cafe car
- Two sleepers
The current, trimmed-down train fits the times. So few people travel right now.
What will the future hold for the Amtrak Crescent?
The future of the long-haul trains is a regularly-discussed and debated topic. So, the Republicans reject support for Amtrak regularly. While the party as a whole isn’t bullish on Amtrak, Congressmen whose districts benefit directly from the trains keep things going. Long-haul passenger rail isn’t high priority during the pandemic. So, we’ll see when we get past this.
Amtrak on NewOrleansRailroads dot com
We offer this post as our first on Amtrak. While we present websites for Southern/NS and the Pontchartrain Railroad, Amtrak posts remain here on the main blog for now. If you’d like to write about Amtrak in New Orleans, we’ll move Amtrak Crescent 08-April-2020 a separate format!
BNSF WarBonnet engine on the NS #BackBelt
Burlington Northern Santa Fe in New Orleans
The #BackBelt gets regular BNSF activity. The NS tracks connect BNSF (working out of the big UP yard in Avondale) with Norfolk Southern in Gentilly and CSX on the east side of the Industrial Canal. Usually, the engines pulling BNSF trains are one to three GEs in the orange livery. I kept seeing BNSF 738 wearing the “Warbonnet” scheme. It usually stopped on the NS underpass at I-10. That’s not a good place to catch a photograph. So, I finally got a photo of the engine at the Canal Blvd. underpass.
The distinctive silver and red “Warbonnet” livery originated in the 1930s. Santa Fe commissioned General Motors artist Leland A. Knickerbocker to design a scheme for their “Super Chief” passenger train. So, the Super Chief ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. It operated from 1937 to 1971. The Super Chief offered all-Pullman service, featuring streamlined trainsets. Diesels always pulled the train. When Amtrak took over passenger service in 1971. The Super Chief operated as Amtrak service for three additional years. When Amtrak replaced the “heritage” equipment with Superliners, they re-named the train the “Southwest Chief,” with ATSF’s blessing. The railroad did not use the Warbonnet livery for freight service. They dropped the Warbonnet in 1971, when they turned passenger service over to Amtrak.
In 1995, ATSF merged with Burlington Northern. The combined system, BNSF, became the largest in North America. BNSF, revived the Warbonnet livery on a number of its freight engines.
Qstation maintained a list of BNSF Warbonnet engines, but it dates to 2002.
The one local Warbonnet engine is a GE C44-9W. These engines are colloquially known as “Dash-9s.” This follows the earlier Dash 7 and Dash 8 nicknames. So, the C44-9Ws date from 1993 to 2004. They still roam the rails in large numbers. While the Dash-9s’ max speed is 74mph, you’re not likely to see them move that fast on the #BackBelt. They generate 4400hp.
Both BNSF and NS have projects in progress to convert Dash-9s to AC.
The mission of this site is to be a repository for photos, maps, ephemera, and stories related to railroads in the metro New Orleans area.
I got the idea to start this site from reading the “Louisiana Railroad History” group on Facebook. One of the members mentioned that he had a lot of the stuff he’d compiled over the years on a website, but it vanished. That gave me an idea: create a site where individual railroad folks could set up their own stuff. It’s what WordPress calls a “network site.” The idea is to have one domain, www.neworleansrailroads.com, but then either subdomains (something.neworleansrailroads.com), or folders (www.neworleansrailroads.com/something). Either way, railroad folks can set up their own sub-site. WordPress makes it easy to “export” the stuff you add to the site. So, if something happens to me or the site, you don’t lose your stuff.
I started a website, Pontchartrain Railroad – N Scale, to chronicle my home layout. I found that I was adding a LOT of prototype stuff to that site. Those photos and such dominate the layout stuff! The prototype stuff needs a home.
And there’s the history! Old photos, stuff I write about for #TrainThursday on NOLA History Guy, etc. That stuff swallows up the modeling. Mind you, there’s overlap–things I’ve learned about the Bernadotte Yard in #NOLAmidcity inspire all sorts of modeling ideas.
And there’s the fiction. I write stories. I create things in my head for the layout that aren’t strict prototype. For example, my Pontchartrain Railroad works with Pontchartrain MicroModal to connect my fictional Milneburg to the rest of the world. That’s a story. It belongs on the model’s website. While reality overlaps with this, it shouldn’t be mashed up too much.
If you’re interested in working on this site, drop me an email. I’d love to have you on board!