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Railroads Archives - Edward Branley - The NOLA History Guy
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.

Southern Railway Mardi Gras 1896 #TrainThursday

Southern Railway Mardi Gras 1896 #TrainThursday

Southern Railway advertising rates to Mardi Gras 1896.

mardi gras 1896

 

Mardi Gras 1896

“Reduced Rates – Mardi Gras via Southern Ry. and Alabama Great Southern Railroad . . . Double Daily Train Service between New York, Washington, and New Orleans . . . ”

Ad for the Southern Railway, January-February, 1896. The ad features a man in a classic jester costume, along with a railway logo, “SR” bisected by an arrow.

Route and fares

Southern Railway evolved into the large system we know now over a century. In 1896, the Queen and Crescent route operated from New York City to New Orleans. The route ran over tracks owned by a number of railroads. Trains originating at New Orleans began the trip from the New Orleans and Northeastern (NONE) station at Press and Royal Streets in the Bywater. From NONE, the route traveled north to Birmingham, Chattanooga, to Atlanta. It continued north from Atlanta, to Washington and NYC. This ad shows the round-trip rates from various cities along the way.

Alabama Great Southern Railroad

The Queen and Crescent transitioned from NO&NE tracks to AGS as it traveled north. AGS later became a major component of the Southern Railway System. From Wikipedia:

The Alabama Great Southern Railroad (reporting mark AGS) is a railroad in the U.S. states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. It is an operating subsidiary of the Norfolk Southern Corporation (NS),[2] running southwest from Chattanooga (where it connects with the similarly owned Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railway) to New Orleans through Birmingham and Meridian. The AGS also owns about a 30% interest in the Kansas City Southern-controlled Meridian-Shreveport Meridian Speedway.[3]

So, the Queen and Crescent, Crescent Limited/Southern Crescent, Southerner, and Pelican passenger routes traveled through AGS territory and tracks. Amtrak’s Crescent continues through AGS territory. The Amtrak route is more-or-less the same as the Southern Crescent.

Pullman Service

While later incarnations of the New Orleans to New York City route operated across the merged Southern system, equipment changed in 1896, as the route entered new territory. Since the Pullman Company operated all the sleeping cars for the railroads, booking a Pullman compartment enabled “through” service. No matter whose locomotives pulled the train, sleeping car passengers got to Carnival with no need to change seats/cars.

Up Canal Boulevard from the 5400 block

Up Canal Boulevard from the 5400 block

Looking Up Canal Boulevard and the underpass from the 5400 block.

up canal boulevard

Up Canal Boulevard

Franck Studios Photo titled, Up Canal Boulevard from the 5400 block (LDL/The Historic New Orleans Collection). Photo shows a Southern Railway’s “Southerner” passenger train, about fifteen minutes after departure from Union Passenger Terminal (UPT) downtown. The Works Progress Administration constructed this and several other underpasses for the “Back Belt” route in 1940. The underpasses created a path for the trains that had no grade crossings with roads. Once a train leaves UPT (or a freight train enters Orleans Parish), there are no grade crossings until it crosses Lake Pontchartrain.

5500 Canal Boulevard

up canal boulevard

view up Canal Boulevard from the top of the train bridge in the 5500 block (Franck Studios Photo)

This photo shows the other side of the underpass. Traffic heading to the lakefront travels on the right, including an old-style NOPSI bus. While it’s not physically difficult to climb up to the bridge and tracks, it’s not recommended. A Cloverleaf Dairy delivery truck pulls into the street on the left.

Southerner and Crescent

southern crescent

Color photo of the Southern Crescent at Canal. Mike Palmieri photo, 3-June-1977

THNOC includes their generic record notation for this photo. That lists the date as 1941. That’s not accurate, though, since the trains didn’t pass over Canal Boulevard until after UPT opened in 1954. So, this train rolls out of town in the 1950s. The Southerner followed a route from New Orleans to Atlanta using Southern Railway routes exclusively. The Crescent Limited and Crescent trains traveled from Mobile to New Orleans on Louisville and Nashville tracks along the Gulf Coast.

Amtrak

The Back Belt carries a great deal of freight traffic. The route connects freight yards in Avondale (UP and BNSF) and Metairie (CN and KCS) with the Norfolk Southern yard in Gentilly and CSX yard in New Orleans East. There’s a single Amtrak train, the Amtrak Crescent, traveling this route. Amtrak assumed operations of the Crescent from Southern in 1977. The train runs daily from UPT, arriving at New York Penn Station (NYP) the following day. Here’s the Amtrak Crescent crossing Canal Boulevard, 28-December-2023:

Two engines, AMTK 83, a GE P42DC “Genesis” and AMTK 338, a Siemens “Charger” pull a consist of three coaches, a cafe car, two sleepers and a bag-dorm car. The train will reach New York Penn Station the next day.

Downtown Railroads 1961

Downtown Railroads 1961

All the downtown railroads shifted to Loyola Avenue in 1954.

downtown railroads

 

Downtown Railroads in 1961

Aerial photo of Union Passenger Terminal (UPT), Illinois Central (IC) rail yards, and buildings in the vicinity, 1961. Charles Franck Studios photo via The Historic New Orleans Collection.

The highway at the top is the Pontchartrain Expressway (US90 Business). The expressway leads across the river in 1961, with the opening of the (now-named) Crescent City Connection bridge in 1958. Below the highway are UPT and its tracks, then the Post Office and railroad tracks for that facility. Then other commercial buildings stand at the bottom of the photo. The Illinois Central service yard is below those buildings.

The old Federal Building on Loyola Avenue, with the big weather radar tower on the roof, is visible on the left.

Union Station to UPT

downtown railroads

Union Passenger Terminal, Loyola Avenue

This photo shows no real trace of old Union Station, seven years after UPT opened. The city centralized passenger rail operations at UPT in 1954. They quickly demolished the five passenger terminals operating prior to 1954. Mayor Chep Morrison implemented a “burn the boats” strategy. So, the railroads had little choice but to go along. Prior to UPT, Illinois Central and Southern Pacific operated from old Union Station. Amtrak presently operates UPT, station name NOL. Greyhound Bus also uses UPT.

US Post Office

The Post Office facility originally stood next to Union Station. Since passenger railroads carried the mail from city to city, the main post office was next to the train station. The cars on tracks below UPT carried the mail. They’re parked at the back of the post office. The Post Office (now the US Postal Service) canceled transportation contracts with the railroads in the 1960s. The downturn in passenger rail service is sort of a chicken-and-egg story. The railroads cut back passenger trains. The Post Office shifted to trucks and air mail. Which killed the trains? A little of both.

Additional rail facilities

The Illinois Central RR operated the yard near the bottom of the photo. They staged both passenger and freight cars there. An IC train arrived at the station, then IC switchers pulled the cars out of UPT. They crossed over to the service track for the yard, then parked them.

Da Dome

The city razed much of the land visible here below the Post Office. This made room for construction of the Louisiana Superdome in the 1970s. While the downtown site was one of several proposed locations for the stadium, any changes to the area were just on paper in 1961. The city performed a number of land swaps in the area. This avoided having to buy property outright.

While the USPS facility remains, all of its railroad tracks were torn up during Dome construction. Compare the roof of the Post Office here with the current configuration in a map/satellite program and you’ll see the evolution.