Elysian Fields 1938

Elysian Fields 1938

Before Elysian Fields took you to UNO, there was the Pontchartrain Railroad.

ford truck at elysian fields and gentilly 1938

Elysian Fields in 1938

Photo of Gentilly Road at Elysian Fields, 1938. A Ford Model T truck heads westbound on Gentilly, Behind the truck is a dirt road which later becomes Elysian Fields Avenue. Prior to this, this Gentilly Road was the half-way point for the Pontchartrain Railroad (PRR). The PRR ran from Chartres Street in the Marigny up to Milneburg. The Louisville & Nashville discontinued the PRR in 1931. So, by 1938, the street had yet to replace the train tracks.

Hebrew Rest Cemetery is visible on the left. A consortium of Jewish congregations bought land on the Gentilly Ridge. The high ground of the ridge facilitated in-ground burials.

Railroad versus canal

The first link between the city and the lake was the combination of the Carondelet Canal and Bayou St. John. The Creoles built the canal in 1795. They leveraged the bayou to complete a waterway. The Anglo-Irish community built the second connection, the New Basin Canal. So, by the 1840s, both sides of Canal Street had a link to the lake.

Businessmen in Gentilly went in a different direction. While developers did consider a canal to the east of the city, linking Faubourg Marigny with the lake, they scrapped the plan. Instead, investors built a railroad from the established neighborhood and the lake. The PRR opened in 1831. Ships docked at Port Pontchartrain and trains took goods down to the riverfront. As Milneburg developed, passengers used the six-mile route to go to the lake for day trips.

L&N takes over

The PRR sold out to the New Orleans, Mobile and Texas Railroad in 1871. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad leased the PRR route in 1880. They bought it outright in 1881. The L&N bought the PRR to extend their system to the port of New Orleans. So, they didn’t really care much about Port Pontchartrain. So, the full run to Lake Pontchartrain became more passenger than cargo. Milneburg offered hotels, restaurants, and fishing camps to New Orleanians. By 1930, L&N lost interest in keeping up the full PRR route. The final trains to Milneburg ran in 1932.

Works Progress Administration

By the late 1930s, the tracks vanished. A dirt/shell road replaced the right-of-way. The neighborhood expanded at this time, laying the foundation for the Gentilly subdivisions that popped up after World War II. When the Works Progress Administration (WPA) came to New Orleans in 1939, paving roads in Gentilly ranked high on the project list. WPA created the grid of Gentilly streets as we know them in 1939-1940. Elysian Fields Avenue linked Gentilly Road to the new bath house facility built at Milneburg. They accepted Harry Batt, Jr.’s bid to move his amusement park from Bayou St. John and the lake to the end of Elysian Fields. NOPSI set up bus service from downtown to the new “Pontchartrain Beach” amusement area.

Sixteen years after this photo, post-war growth in Gentilly included the opening of Cor Jesu High School. The Brothers of the Sacred Heart built the school on Elysian Fields, in what was the land to the right of this photo.

The truck

I like to think the truck in this photo was one of the ones used by the Zuppardo family at this time. The Zuppardo’s started with a mule-drawn wagon, bringing over-ripe bananas from the port up into Gentilly. The business became profitable, and the family built a roadside stand on Gentilly Road. They replaced the wagons with trucks. Eventually the business became Zuppardo’s Supermarket. The family operated the store on the corner of Elysian Fields and Gentilly until Hurricane Katrina.

Norfolk Southern Back Belt map 1918

Norfolk Southern Back Belt map 1918

The current Norfolk Southern Back Belt dates back to the beginning of the 20th century.

norfolk southern back belt

Norfolk Southern Back Belt in 1918

Map of New Orleans Terminal Company (NOTC) trackage as of 30-June-1918. This path across Orleans Parish became known as the “Back Belt,” in comparison to the “Public Belt” route that hugs the river and services the wharves. The NOTC acquired the land for the Back Belt in the early 1900s. While I don’t have documentation, it’s likely no coincidence that merchant and developer Leon Fellman bought the 1201 block of Canal Street. Did he know about the plans of the railroad men? NOTC later merged with the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad, which in turn merged into the Southern Railway system in 1916. That’s how the route became part of the current Norfolk Southern System.

City bypass

The idea behind the Back Belt was to bypass most of the populated areas of Orleans Parish. The Back Belt originates in Jefferson Parish. It splits off of the former Illinois Central (now Canadian National) main line at Causeway Blvd. That’s the “Shrewsbury” reference on the map. It crossed the New Canal via a bascule bridge just north of Metairie Road. From there, the route crosses the city, then turns towards the river in St. Bernard Parish.

The city naturally developed in succeeding years. Lakeview and Gentilly caught up with the Back Belt by the 1920s. The Levee Board’s land reclamation projects in the 1920s opened up the area. As part of the Works Progress Administration projects of the Great Depression Era, the Back Belt expanded. WPA constructed underpasses at grade crossings throughout the city. So, once the route clears Carrollton Avenue in Metairie, there are no grade crossings for trains until they cross Lake Pontchartrain and reach Slidell.

The Terminal

The last Southern Railway train,

Terminal Station, late 1910s

NOTC connected the Back Belt to downtown in 1908. They built Terminal Station at Canal and Basin Streets. The route ran adjacent to St. Louis Street through Mid-City. It linked up with the Back Belt at Greenwood Cemetery. Southern Railway used this connection for their “Bernadotte Yard,” so named because the yard started just below the connection point, at Bernadotte and St. Louis Streets.

Terminal Station operated from 1908 to 1954. The city constructed Union Passenger Terminal, shifting all passenger rail operations to the new station. The city demolished Terminal Station in 1956. The link to the Back Belt re-routed to follow the Pontchartrain Expressway. Today, Amtrak’s Crescent route uses that connection. The Back Belt continues to be incredibly busy, used by Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, CSX, Canadian National/KCS and Amtrak.

Pepsi and Berlin on the Amtrak Crescent

Pepsi and Berlin on the Amtrak Crescent

Pepsi and Berlin means special livery and private varnish on the Crescent. #TrainThursday

pepsi and berlin

AMTK 160 in Phase III livery.

Pepsi and Berlin

Amtrak’s Crescent #20 rolled out of New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal (NOL) yesterday and today with some special units. The video above shows AMTK 332 and AMTK 160 pulling the train on 3-April-2024. The first engine, 332, is a Siemens Charger. These engines are newer than the P-42 “Genesis” locos. Amtrak mixes use of the two generations.

AMTK 160 is one of those older Genesis units. The railroad painted it in “Phase III” livery in 2021, to mark its 50th Anniversary. The scheme is affectionately known as “Pepsi Can,” since it resembles the colors of the soft drink’s logo. Amtrak implemented Phase III only on its GE Dash-8-32BWH locomotives. The railroad transitioned into the Genesis units, so they painted a Genesis in Phase III for the anniversary. We wrote about the Pepsi Can already, but it’s still fun to see it go by.

 

Sleep on a Train

On 4-April-2024, Private car “Berlin” hitched a ride with #20. Genesis locos AMTK 77 and 18 lead the train. We’ve also written about the private car, Berlin, but seeing it on the rails is a good sign. It means Spring is here! Travel by private railcar picks up in the Fall (foliage season in the NorthEast) and Cherry Blossom time in the Spring. Berlin heading to NYP means we’ll have to keep a closer eye out for it and other private cars.

New Orleans sees a number of these private cars pass through the city. Three Amtrak routes converge on New Orleans, the Sunset Limited (to Los Angeles), the City of New Orleans (to Chicago), and the Crescent (to New York). While most private car adventures make a round trip on a single route, some run transcontinental. They’ll hitch to a train heading out of New York, then change to one heading to the West Coast. So, we occasionally see private varnish arrive from New York, stay over a night or two, then head west, hooked to the Sunset Limited. This sort of connection began in the 1890s.

New Orleans Public Belt – NOPB Roundhouse #TrainThursday

New Orleans Public Belt – NOPB Roundhouse #TrainThursday

The last remaining roundhouse in New Orleans stands on Tchoupitoulas Street.
NOTE: this post is an update of one from 2018.

nopb roundhouse

Unidentified man stands next to NOPB locomotive #22

NOPB Roundhouse on the riverfront

Franck Studios photo of a Baldwin 0-6-0 switcher. NOPB received the engine new in Jan. 1921. It bore construction number 54415 from Baldwin, and its NOPB road number was 22. The engine was retired May 1957. The photo shows the engine coming off the turntable and entering roundhouse stall 5.

NOPB operations

new orleans public belt 1941

New Orleans Public Belt 1941 – Baldwin 0-6-0 switcher at the Tchoupitoulas terminal (courtesy NOPB)

The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad is a “short line” railroad. It operates along the Mississippi River in Metro New Orleans. The city created NOPB in 1908. They fixed the issue of railroad congestion along the riverfront. The Class I railroad wanted their own tracks and terminals along the wharves and warehouses. So, the city created a Class III railroad, the NOPB, to connect them.

A state agency manages the NOPB. It is the Public Belt Railroad Commission. The commission also maintains the Huey P. Long Bridge, since it services both railroad and automobile traffic.

The following railroads travel over NOPB tracks:

  • BNSF Railway
  • CSX Transportation
  • Canadian National/Illinois Central
  • Kansas City Southern
  • Norfolk Southern
  • Union Pacific
  • Amtrak

Engine Terminal

nopb roundhouse

Google Earth image of the NOPB Tchoupitoulas terminal.

NOPB services its engines at the roundhouse on Tchoupitoulas. While turntable/roundhouse facilities were common prior to World War II, they became less common as diesel locomotives entered wider service. Diesel locomotives operate easily in either direction. Steam locomotives have a clear “front” and “back.” Turntables enabled the service facility to easily reverse the direction of the steam equipment. For diesels, crews just engaged the engines in reverse.
The image above is a Google Earth shot of the Tchoupitoulas facility today. Engines enter the facility from a siding track connected to the riverfront “main line.” The turntable directs equipment onto seven sidings. Depending on what’s required, an engine may simply park outside the roundhouse, or enter the stall. The tracks to the left of the circle appear to be a separate building for heavy maintenance tasks.

Dating the Photo

The photo was commissioned by the NOPB. So, it is part of the Franck Studios archive at the Historic New Orleans Collection (HNOC). HNOC dates the photo 29-October-1941, but there are dozens of photos with that date. It’s possible they were all processed by Franck Studios then. Therefore, it’s not clear just when the picture was taken. Since the engine was in service until 1957, it’s possible that the photo is indeed from 1941.

Mystery Man

We haven’t been able to identify the man in the white suite in the photo. Given that he’s dressed in a white suit, it’s more likely he is either a NOPB commissioner or a city or state official. We’ve contacted NOPB in the hopes they know who he is.

 

Louisiana and Arkansas Terminal #TrainThursday

Louisiana and Arkansas Terminal #TrainThursday

Trains for Kansas City Southern operated from the L&A Terminal South Rampart Street.

Louisiana and Arkansas Terminal

Franck Studios image of the Louisiana and Arkansas passenger terminal. The terminal stood at 705 S. Rampart, corner of Girod. It opened in 1923. Kansas City Southern took over the terminal in 1939. So, while this Alexander Allison photo is undated, it’s likely from 1940-41. What’s particularly interesting is the sign on the front. Earlier photos of the terminal don’t show the sign. The station was small, with only two tracks leading up to it. L&A operated a yard up from the station at (now) Norman C. Francis Parkway. Trains used a wye to turn around and back into the station. So, once passengers got off, trains ran up to the yard. Crews cleaned the cars and serviced the road locomotives. Switchers staged the next train on the station tracks.

 

Traffic to the terminal grew in 1928, as L&A acquired the Louisiana Navigation and Railway Company. That railroad operated from New Orleans to Shreveport. L&A inaugurated an overnight train, The Hustler, from New Orleans to Shreveport, in 1932. L&A investors started purchasing KCS in 1937. They gained control of the railroad in 1939. KCS absorbed L&A, but the subsidiary railroad remained on the books until 1992.

The Southern Belle

louisiana and arkansas terminal

1940s brochure for the Southern Belle train.

With the acquisition of L&A (although arguably it was the other way around), KCS inaugurated the Southern Belle in 1940. This “name train” ran from New Orleans to Kansas City. The Southern Belle, along with other KCS trains, operated from the L&A terminal until 1954, when all passenger operations in New Orleans moved to Union Passenger Terminal.

The corner store

Louisiana and Arkansas Terminal

Corner store at the L&A/KCS Terminal, 1930s

I’m particularly interested in the store on the corner. It stood right on the corner of S. Rampart and Girod. While the earlier Trice photo shows the store Coca-Cola branded signage, the later Allison photo shows an awning. Since the store has an external, outside entrance, it likely serviced the neighborhood. This part of S. Rampart Street, just before the turning basin of the New Canal, contained a number of Jazz nightclubs and saloons. It’s hard to make out details on this image. So, we’ll be looking for better resolution and other photos.

louisiana and arkansas terminal

Leon Trice photo of the station from the 1930s.

Like other railroad-related locations, the L&A Terminal is an ongoing research project.

 

 

 

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.