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.
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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.
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.