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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.


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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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.


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,, but then either subdomains (, or folders ( 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!


Operated by NOLA History Guy, Edward Branley.


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