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Railroad Operations Past and Present

 

NewOrleansRailroads dot com presents as many aspects of rail operations and history in the New Orleans area as we can get.

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History of Rail in New Orleans

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Pontchartrain Railroad

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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Norfolk Southern MOW #BackBelt

Norfolk Southern MOW #BackBelt

Norfolk Southern MOW equipment on the New Orleans #BackBelt.

norfolk southern MOW

MOW equipment on the NS Back Belt, 3-Feb-2021

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

norfolk southern mow

MOW equipment on the NS Back Belt, 23-Feb-2021

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 Equipment

norfolk southern mow

NS MOW equipment parked at the mouth of the old Southern Railway Bernadotte Street Yard, 28-Feb-2021

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.

 

Amtrak Crescent Plus ATIP Car

Amtrak Crescent Plus ATIP Car

AMTK Crescent plus ATIP car on the #backbelt in New Orleans

amtk crescent plus atip

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.

Special Cars

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.

ATIP

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.

Crescent #20

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 – Norfolk Southern #BackBelt

Phase IV Heritage 184 – Norfolk Southern #BackBelt

Phase IV Heritage 184 in the lead on this morning’s Crescent #20

Phase IV Heritage 184

A Heritage engine pulled the Crescent out of New Orleans (NOL) this morning (3-August). It’s been a while since one of the Heritage units led the long-haul route. The video is a bit short. I didn’t plan on recording the train this morning, but then I saw 184.

Status of the Crescent

Amtrak moves a lot of equipment through New Orleans. So, with the schedule chaos since the appearance of the novel coronavirus, trains run non-standard. In early April, the Crescent’s consist was down to:
  • Two P42 Genesis engines
  • Two coaches
  • Cafe car
  • One sleeper
  • Baggage/Dorm

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.

Heritage Units

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

Public Belt MOW Equipment

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.

MOW Vehicle

public belt MOW equipment

MOW vehicle at Central Avenue, 11-April-2020

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.

Fuel Tank

Public Belt MOW Equipment

New fuel tank installed at Central Avenue on the NOPBRR.

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.

Sunset Limited

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.

Site Note

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

Amtrak Crescent 08-April-2020

Amtrak Crescent 08-April-2020 on the #BackBelt

Amtrak Crescent 08-April-2020

Crescent #20 (Northbound), passing through City Park, 8-April-2020, 0714CDT

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.

Amtrak Crescent 08-April-2020

The second of only two coaches on Crescent #20 today.

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.

Today’s consist

Amtrak Crescent 08-April-2020

Baggage/Dorm car bringing up the rear of #20 this morning.

The consist for Amtrak Crescent 08-April-2020 was small:

  • Two P42 Genesis engines
  • Two coaches
  • Cafe car
  • One sleeper
  • Baggage/Dorm

Compare this with the usual, pre-coronavirus consist:

  • Two P42 engines
  • Four coaches
  • Cafe car
  • Diner
  • Two sleepers
  • Baggage/Dorm

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!

WarBonnet on the #BackBelt

WarBonnet on the #BackBelt

BNSF WarBonnet engine on the NS #BackBelt

bnsf warbonnet

BNSF #738, a GE Dash-9 in Warbonnet livery.

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.

WarBonnet!

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.

BNSF 738

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.

 

NewOrleansRailroads dot com Mission Statement

NewOrleansRailroads dot com Mission Statement

mission statement

BNSF westbound on the #BackBelt at Canal Blvd.

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!

About
NewOrleansRailroads.com

Operated by NOLA History Guy, Edward Branley.