Amtrak City of New Orleans heading out of town at different speeds.
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
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.
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.
Transition Sleeper car, connected to a single-level baggage car on the Sunset Limited.
Superliner 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.
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.
Amtrak began the process of replacing the Superliners in 2022. They anticipate having new cars in place by 2032.
The Huey P. Long Bridge Administration Building, on the east bank.
Bridge Administration Building
The State of Louisiana built the Huey P. Long Bridge in 1934-35. They included a Bridge Administration Building in the project. So, they located the building on the East Bank side. It stood in what is now Elmwood, Louisiana. From the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) survey summary:
Significance: The Huey P. Long Bridge, Administration was built as part of the Huey P. Long Bridge project and designated as Contract No. 10. It was built to house the administrative offices of the Louisiana Highway and New Orleans Public Belt Railroad Commission. Also the control room for the bridge operations. The simple Modern/Beaux-Arts style building was designed by renowned Lousiana Architects; Weiss, Dreyfous & Seiferth of New Orleans who also designed the new nationally significant 1932 Modern/Beaux-Arts style Louisiana State Capitol Building in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Building floor plan
HAER surveys, along with Historic American Building Surveys (HABS) are done by the Department of the Interior to preserve detailed records of historic structures which may end up demolished at some point. For example, there’s a HABS survey of old Canal Station (now the location of the A. Phillip Randolph bus facility, operated by NORTA) at Canal and N. White Streets in Mid-City. While the best result for these buildings would be preservation, at least we have these records.
Crossing the river
Plaque marking the construction of the Huey.
The Huey P. Long Bridge provided New Orleans with its first overhead river crossing, Prior to its opening, people and goods crossed via ferries. A number of companies operated passenger ferries. Morgan Steamship (Southern Pacific Railroad) operated a ferry in the Marigny. It moved railcars from Esplanade Avenue to Algiers. From there, trains traveled to Houston and points West. SP later constructed ferry landings in Jefferson and Avondale. They used that crossing until the Huey opened.
Phone box used by the Huey P. Long Bridge staff in the Bridge Administration Building
The building housed the Louisiana Highway Commision and the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad. Additionally, it included a “control room” for the bridge. The Public Belt staff monitored railroad traffic on the approaches. Automobile traffic was secondary to rail for decades. (Anyone driving the original auto lanes on the Huey appreciates this.) The control room maintained communications with the switch towers. Supervisors manned the control room. Phones routed through the switchboard room.
Fate of the building
NPS published this HAER in 1968. The Public Belt demolished it after the survey. Additionally, a self-storage facility now stands on the site.
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.
Photo of Fort Livingston and its lighthouse, from the 1930s. The fort stands on Grand Terre Island, on the Louisiana Gulf Coast. It’s the only military fortification in Louisiana along the Gulf Coast. Other defenses for New Orleans stand further inland. The Lafitte brothers, Jean and Pierre established their smuggling base on Grand Terre Island in the early 1800s. The US Navy attacked their base in 1814, forcing them to re-locate. The government needed the Lafittes out so they could build coastal defenses. They began construction in 1834. After some delays, work began in earnest in 1840. Gus Beauregard, then a Major in the US Army, supervised the fort’s construction. By 1856, the government added the original lighthouse. Photo is from the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program at LSU.
The secession government of Louisiana occupied Fort Livingston in 1861. The state placed the fort under the command of General Mansfield Lovell. Lovell garrisoned the fort with 300 rebel troops. Their mission was coastal defense, but the Union navy squadron did not approach New Orleans via Bayou Barataria. The fort offered protection to blockade runners leaving New Orleans via Bayou Barataria. The garrison, with their fifteen guns, prevented the Union Navy from approaching the coast. Once in the open Gulf, blockade runners sported a better chance of getting to foreign ports.
Lovell withdrew the fort’s garrison in April of 1862. The invasion of New Orleans by Farragut and Butler rendered use of Fort Livingston moot. After the rebellion, the Army reduced the garrison at the fort to a single sergeant. Commercial interests developed on Grand Terre in the 1860s, most notably a shrimp cannery, in 1867. A hurricane severely damaged the fort in 1872. They removed the guns in 1889.
The first lighthouse at the fort became operational in 1856. That structure remained until 1903. That’s when the lighthouse in this photo was built. The lighthouse underwent renovation in the late 1920s. The lighthouse sustained massive damage in a hurricane that hit Grand Terre, July 14-15, 1931. This helps date the photo to prior to that storm.
Barataria shrimp trawler heading to the Gulf of Mexico.
Barataria shrimp trawler
The “Karaset C,” a trawler, heading out Bayou Barataria to the white shrimp fishing zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Howard “Cole” Coleman, undated, likely in the late 1950s. There are five or six people on the boat. Photo is part of the Thelma Hecht Coleman Memorial Collection at the Howard-Tilton Library, Tulane University. I am not familiar with shrimp boats, so I don’t know much about the details of this craft. If you do, feel free to discuss in comments.
White shrimp season
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries monitors quantities of shrimp in the inshore/Louisiana parts of the Gulf of Mexico. They set the dates for fishing white shrimp. The season runs from mid-August to December.Some shrimping areas remain open, even into the summer. The idea is to allow shrimpers to go out and make a living while allowing time for the shrimp to hatch and grow to a size that makes harvesting economical. So, every village down the bayous held a “Blessing of the Fleet,” and off the boats went.
So, this is the time of year where the boats head out to the Gulf. A classic joke in South Louisiana is that everyone’s a shrimper during hard economic times. While this was true at the time of this photo, climate change, tropical weather, and oil/gas mishaps present challenges to shrimpers.
When a trawler like Karaset C pull in their daily limit, they head back to port. Part of the daily routine for these boats and their crews is to load up with ice, early in the morning. They drop the nets, pull in shrimp, then head back to the dock. Brokers and processors bought the catches from the boats. Keeping their catch fresh in the August heat meant the shrimpers worked the inshore areas as long as they could. Boats that went further out into the Gulf risked the shrimp spoiling.
Once at the dock the boats sold the catch. In the case of docks like the one at the old Violet packing plant, boats could sell direct to the plant. Brokers and buyers from other plants would go to public docks, buy shrimp, then process them. The Violet plant created three end products. They broke off the heads of large-count shrimp and flash-froze them. The rest of the catch would be steamed, then machine-peeled. They used a conveyor-belt style peeler. The plastic on the belt expanded and contracted. This cracked the shells, which fell through to the floor. The shrimp went down the conveyor, where they were either canned or frozen. When I did computer support for that plant, I would love making excuses to go down to the plant, rather than the office in Elmwood. Pick up a loaf of french bread on the way down, and…shrimp po-boys!