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2020s Archives - Edward Branley - The NOLA History Guy
New Orleans Public Belt RR at Ursuline Street #TrainThursday

New Orleans Public Belt RR at Ursuline Street #TrainThursday

The New Orleans Public Belt runs along the riverfront.

public belt

Streetcars and trains along the Riverfront

Infrogmation photo (2013) of three New Orleans Public Belt (NOPB) locomotives passing the Ursuline Street station for the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA). From right to left: NOPB 3001, an EMD GP40, NOPB 3003, a GP40-2, and NOPB 2008, a Motive Power Industries (MPI) 1500D. All three locomotives bear the red NOPB livery used at that time.

New Orleans Public Belt

The City of New Orleans created the NOPB in 1908. From the railroad’s Wikipedia entry:

The impetus for the NOPB came at the start of the 20th century era when multiple railroads terminating locally created both congestion at the Port of New Orleans and safety problems on city streets. The railroad began operation in 1908 with the intention of giving the major railroads “uniform and impartial” access to the port.

So, the NOPB regularly operates along the riverfront. Additionally, the NOPB “owns” the Huey P. Long bridge, which connects about one-third of the nation’s east-west railroad traffic. From the Industrial Canal to Jefferson, Louisiana, NOPB horns can be heard.

Streetcars

public belt

Portion of the route map for NORTA’s UPT-Riverfront line.

While there are no streetcars in this photo, the Ursuline Station is a stop on the NORTA UPT-Riverfront line, Route 49. It’s the second-to-last stop as the outbound streetcars approach the French Market terminal. Hopping off the Von Dullen and 400-series arch roofs at Ursuline puts the rider at Latrobe Park. This snippet of NORTA’s map for Route 49 shows the various railroad tracks in this part of the port. While the first incarnation of the Riverfront line operated on “standard gauge” tracks, the line switched to “streetcar gauge” in 1997.

Red to Blue

public belt

NOPB locos in blue livery passing Jackson Square, February 2023. Mussi Katz photo.

NOPB adopted a blue livery for their locomotive fleet in 2019. The blue paint scheme distinguishes them from the streetcars on Route 49. The locomotives use horns, where the streetcar operators clang the traditional trolley bell.

The Back Belt caught fire!

The Back Belt caught fire!

A back belt fire disrupts trains and autos.

back belt fire

courtesy NOFD

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!

Track damage

back belt fire

courtesy NOFD

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.

back belt fire

Amtrak Crescent #20, 3-Oct-2023

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.

Repairs

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.

Normal?

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.

Amtrak City of New Orleans – slow and fast(er)

Amtrak City of New Orleans – slow and fast(er)

Amtrak City of New Orleans heading out of town at different speeds.

Amtrak City of New Orleans

Riding Amtrak City of New Orleans

The City of New Orleans is Amtrak’s New Orleans to Chicago route. It’s their version of the old Illinois Central train made famous by the song.  For the last few months, the City passed through the intersection at Central Avenue in Old Jefferson very slowly, like this

Speeding up

By 11-August, the railroad decided to pick up the pace. This is the same intersection, but on the other side of the train. I’m of two minds on which angle I prefer. The closer-up position is fun, but taking a few steps back to the other side of the old IC (now Canadian National) main line offers good profile views.

Note the Transition Sleepers at the rear of the trains. This is interesting, because usually the transition sleepers only ran here on the Sunset Limited. That 3.5-day route required sleeping cabins for crew. The City routes are shorter, but still overnight. I don’t know if connecting private cars to the rest of the train is a factor, but the lower vestibule of these cars allows it.

 

There are still some days when you see the older GE P42DC “Genesis” engines pulling the City, but the Siemens Chargers are the solid, day-to-day power for the route. While the Crescent still runs the Genesis engines, that route is scheduled to phase into the Chargers by next year. The City ran with one P42 for years. Since switching to the Charger, the train uses two engines. The Charger could pull either the City or the Crescent with one engine. I guess the railroad doesn’t want to deal with breakdown issues. If something happens, there’s a backup and the train can just keep going. We’ll keep an eye out for the newer engines on the Back Belt.

Amtrak Transition Sleepers

Amtrak transition sleepers connect single-level cars with Superliners.

transition sleeper floor plan via Craig Mashburn

Transition Sleeper floor plan by Crag Mashburn.

Connection cars with transition sleepers

Superliner II transition  sleeper car

Transition Sleeper bringing up the rear of the City of New Orleans.

AMTK 39008, a “transition sleeper” car, running on train #59, the City of New Orleans.The car’s design includes end vestibules at different levels. The car connects with the car in front of it on the upper level. These are “Superliner II” cars manufactured by Bombardier in the 1990s. They operate on Amtrak routes outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC). So, two of the trains that originate in New Orleans, the City of New Orleans and the Sunset Limited, operate Superliners. The third train, the Crescent, operates Viewliner II single-level cars. The Crescent travels to New York (Penn Station). The Crescent enters Manhattan via a tunnel. So, it uses the single-level cars.

Purpose

amtrak transition sleeper car connected to a baggage car

Transition Sleeper car, connected to a single-level baggage car on the Sunset Limited.

Superliner II Sleeper, with high vestibule unlike the transition sleeperSuperliner II Sleeper, with high-level vestibule.

Amtrak normally runs the transition sleeper cars on routes also using standard baggage cars. Long-haul routes like the Sunset Limited require more baggage space than what’s on the lower level of Coach cars. So, the railroad uses the single-level cars that can travel the NEC. To ensure access to baggage, staff can move through the train on the upper level. When they reach the end of the transition car, they return to the lower level and through the vestibule. Since the transition connection is on a sleeper, engine crews use its roomettes for rest and sleep.

History

transition sleeper connected to heritage car

Transition sleeper connected to “heritage” car on the Sunset Limited.

Prior to Amtrak, most passenger rail operators ran single-level equipment. When the national rail corporation took over in 1971, it inherited seventy-three “Hi-Level” cars from Santa Fe. Passengers loved these cars, with their all-window roofs. When Amtrak moved to replace the “heritage” equipment, it ordered 235 two-level cars, which became the “Superliner I” rolling stock. Those cars reached the fleet by the late 1970s. They ran on the Sunset Limited starting in 1981.

A decade later, Amtrak upgraded the Superliner I cars with a new generation of two-levels. While the first-gen Superliners were manufactured by Pullman-Standard, that company was out of business at that time. They sold the designs and patents for the Superliners to Bombardier. That company delivered 140 cars to Amtrak. That total included forty-seven transition sleepers. Unlike the standard sleepers, which included full both full bedrooms and roomettes, the transitions only have roomettes. There are sixteen roomettes per car. The railroad sells the roomettes closer to the upper level door to passengers.

Future Cars

Amtrak began the process of replacing the Superliners in 2022. They anticipate having new cars in place by 2032.

 

 

 

NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows

NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows

NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows on Twelfth Night.

NORTA 922, a vintage arch roof streetcar, serves as transportation for the Phunny Phorty Phellows on Twelfth Night, 2023.

NORTA 922 and the Phunny Phorty Phellows, Twelfth Night, 2023. Kerri Becker photo.

Seeing NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows is a treat.

The Phunny Phorty Phellows (PPP) announce the arrival of the Carnival season. While there are other organizations parading on Twelfth Night, PPP are the senior members of the cohort. We’ve written a bit about PPP here, but the star of this post isn’t the krewe. It’s the streetcar! NORTA 922 is one of the remaining vintage 1923-24 arch roof streetcars designed by Perley A. Thomas. They dominated the New Orleans transit landscape from their debut to the conversion of the Canal Street line to buses in 1964. There are 35 remaining 900-series cars.

A streetcar numbered 922

While any of the “green streetcars” is more than capable of transporting PPP on their run, NORTA 922 adds a bit of flair to the proceedings. It’s the streetcar from the streetcar movie. The film adaptation of Tennesee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire required a streetcar. The rail department of New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) chose car 922 to be the streetcar. The movie opens with it, and the rest is, well, less history and more legend.

Imposter, Desired

So, NORTA 922 was a movie star. By the 1970s, however, an imposter took credit for 922’s starring role! NOPSI 453, a wood-frame Brill streetcar, received the appelation, “Streetcar Named Desire.” This streetcar functioned for decades as the “training car.” NOPSI installed it at their facility on Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue. They rigged the operator’s console with the same equipment as the 900-series. New-hire motormen (and the “motorettes” during WWII) trained on 453. It was set up to rock and bump. Senior motormen taught the new folks.

As streetcar service in New Orleans dwindled, so did the training needs. NOPSI 453 stood idle. The story of how this streetcar became identified with the movie is fascinating. I invite you to go read this article by Earl W. Hampton, Jr. and H. George Friedman, Jr., for details and lots of photos.

922 back at work

In the meantime, NOPSI 922 went back to work on the St. Charles line. It’s done its duty well, coming up on a century of service. One of those duties is charter rides, like the PPP. On Twelfth Night, the news folks and photographers head to Carrollton Station to see off the year’s designated driver. They file their stories and go home, as the streetcar rolls the krewe down S. Carrollton Avenue, turning onto St. Charles Avenue. They announce the start of Carnival along St. Charles. When the streetcar reaches Tivoli Circle, the streetcar circles around. It becomes an outbound car, returning to the barn.

Streetcar identification

On a side note, streetcar 922 started live as NOPSI 922, and was designated as such from when it first rolled out of the barn. In 1983, NOPSI transferred its transit division to a new entity. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority assumed control of the city’s transit routes and assets. So, those 35 green streetcars switched to the new notation.

Happy Carnival!

Dash-8 on the Crescent 20 #TrainThursday

Dash-8 on the Crescent 20 #TrainThursday

A Dash-8 on the Crescent is an uncommon sighting.

Dash-8 on the Crescent

Amtrak Crescent #20, 29-December-2022, departing New Orleans. AMTK 164, a GE P42-DC “Genesis” in the lead, with AMTK 514, a GE P32-8WH (commonly referred to as a “Dash-8”) behind. Crescent #20 departs Union Passenger Terminal (NOL) at 0915CST. It runs parallel to I-10, which was a navigation canal until 1949. The track continues trough Mid-City New Orleans, turning east when it reaches the Norfolk-Southern “Back Belt.” this connection is directly behind Greenwood Cemetery. Prior to the opening of UPT in 1954, Southern Railway operated the Crescent. That train operated from the L&N terminal at Canal Street and the river.

Once on the Back Belt, there are no grade crossings through the city. The train crosses Lake Pontchartrain on the NS “five-mile bridge” to its first stop in Slidell, LA. From Slidell, it’s off through Mississippi and Alabama to Atlanta, then on to DC, ending at New York’s Penn Station (NYP).

Consist

The Crescent operates “Viewliner” equipment, rather than the “Superliners” used on the City of New Orleans and Sunset Limited. The current consist is 3 coaches, 1 cafe car, 2 sleepers, and a bag-dorm. It’s used this consist since vaccinations for COVID-19 became wide spread. Prior to vaccinations, the route went down to 3-day-per-week operations with two coaches and a single sleeper. Amtrak discontinued dining car service on the Crescent prior to the pandemic.

GE P32-8WH

Illustration of Amtrak Dash-8 locomotives in "Pepsi Can" livery by JakkrapholThailand93 on Deviant Art.

Illustration of Amtrak Dash-8 locomotives in “Pepsi Can” livery by JakkrapholThailand93 on Deviant Art.

Amtrak replaced their EMD F40PH units with Dash-8s. GE delivered this locomotive to Amtrak in 1991. They wore the “Pepsi Can” livery for years.

AMTK 514 is based here at NOL. The NOL crew operate 514 as a switcher to stage the Crescent, City of New Orleans, and Sunset Limited. The Dash-8 steps in for a run to NYP when weather and scheduling messes up the Genesis count.

AMTK 164, a GE P42DC "Genesis" locomotive, pulling the Crescent #20, 29-December-2022. Edward Branley photo.

AMTK 164, a GE P42DC “Genesis” locomotive, pulling the Crescent #20, 29-December-2022. Edward Branley photo.

By the mid-1990s, Amtrak replaced the Dash-8s with GE P42DC “Genesis” locomotives like AMTK 164, shown here.