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.

 

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.

Pullman Porters worked for tips

Pullman Porters worked for tips

Pullman Porters didn’t earn a living wage from the company.

pullman porters

Linen postcard of one of the Pullman-built sleeping compartments aboard the KCS train Southern Belle, which originated in New Orleans.

The Pullman Porters

pullman porter

A Pullman Porter assists a passenger, Chicago, 1880s.

When George Pullman’s company began providing sleeping car service to passenger railroads in the US, he hired Black men, formerly enslaved, to staff the cars. Those men staffed sleeping cars, dining cars, and lounge/club cars. Pullman provided these services from the 1860s until the company ceased operations at the end of 1968. Pullman insisted that all his porters be dark-skinned black men. He knew that these men struggled to find employment as free men. So, He paid them incredibly low wages. The porters relied upon tips from passengers. Wikipedia lays out the economics of life as a Pullman Porter:

 The company required porters to travel 11,000 miles, nearly 400 hours, per month to earn a basic wage. In 1934, porters on regular assignments worked an average of over 73 hours per week and earned 27.8 cents an hour while workers in manufacturing jobs averaged under 37 hours per week and earned an average of 54.8 cents per hour.

What’s interesting is that, in spite of the deck being stacked against them, the porters’ hard work formed the backbone of the Black middle class in cities with lots of passenger rail activity, particularly West Oakland, Chicago, and New Orleans.

Since railroad workers’ unions were segregated, Black porters received no representation. A. Phillip Randolph formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). The union organized the porters. It enabled collective bargaining and negotiation.

Amtrak

The national passenger railroad company took over in 1971. Amtrak dropped use of the term “porter,” referring to their employees in that role as “sleeping car attendants. The BSCP merged into the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks in 1978.

After the original Canal Station streetcar/bus facility was demolished. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority replaced it with a new bus terminal. The Authority named that facility for A. Phillip Randolph, founder of the BSCP.

Tipped Minimum Wage

The Pullman Porters normalized the concept of “working for tips.” While the concept originally enabled white passengers to control how much Black men got paid, the system continues to this day. Diners at restaurants control how much money servers and bartenders earn beyond the $2.13/hour mandated by the federal government.

Kansas City Southern Crossing Carrollton

Kansas City Southern Crossing Carrollton

KCS passenger train heading out, crossing Carrollton Avenue.

crossing carrollton

Crossing Carrollton Avenue

A Kansas City Southern train heads west out of Union Station. It’s crossing S. Carrollton Avenue, just before the intersection of S. Carrollton and Tulane Avenues. A pair of Electro Motive Corporation E3 locomotives are in the lead. Below the underpass bridge, two NOPSI trackless trolleys operating on the Tulane line. The train is likely the “Southern Belle,” the flagship passenger train of the railroad.

The Train

crossing carrollton

Color photo of a KCS EMC E3, pulling the Flying Crow at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal in 1967, by Roger Puta.

The Southern Belle operated from New Orleans to Kansas City, via Shreveport and Dallas. So, it was an important transportation link in Louisiana. The train used EMC E3 engines from its inauguration in 1940 until its last service in 1969.

The Station

KCS passenger service operated from the Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad depot at 705 S. Rampart until 1954. Like other railroads, KCS trains transferred to Union Passenger Terminal that year. The city converted the depot into a fire station for NOFD, then later demolished it. The site is now a surface parking lot.

The L&A Depot stood just below the turning basin of the New Canal. Trains departed north from the depot, then turned west. They merged onto the tracks coming from Union Station. Illinois Central and Southern Pacific trains operated from that terminal. The westbound tracks passed over S. Carrollton Avenue on an underpass built by a WPA streets improvement program. The city filled in the Canal in 1949.

NOPSI trackless trolleys

Since the Southern Belle (and the Flying Crow, which operated from New Orleans to Port Arthur, Texas, to Kansas City) both operated in the 1940s, the buses narrow the time range for this photo. While this section of S. Carrollton was part of the St. Charles/Tulane Belt lines during streetcar operations, that service ended in 1951. NOPSI cut back the St. Charles line to S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne Avenues. They discontinued streetcar service on Tulane at that time. NOPSI replaced streetcars on Tulane with trackless trolleys on January 8, 1951. The company substituted buses on the line on December 27, 1964. So, the photo can’t be earlier than 1951.

Carrollton Interchange

The other factor limiting this photo’s date range is the Carrollton Interchange. It’s not there yet!  That’s because that part of the Pontchartrain Expressway wasn’t completed until 1956. The design phase of the project began in 1952. Since there’s not even construction above the train, the project wasn’t really underway yet.

The cars

Of course, the other identifiers in this photo are the automobiles. I’ll leave it to readers to tell us what they see.

Thanks to Keith “Pop” Evans for making this photo the cover image for his Facebook Group, N.O.L.A. – New Orleans Long Ago.

Southern Pacific Passenger Car #TrainThursday

Southern Pacific Passenger Car #TrainThursday

This Southern Pacific passenger car operated on the Sunset Limited.

southern pacific passenger car

Southern Pacific passenger car

A Budd corporation built passenger car operating on the Southern Pacific’s “Sunset Limited” train. The Historic New Orleans Collection dates this photo as prior to 1941, but that’s not accurate. The SP replaced the “heavyweight” cars running on the Sunset Limited with “streamline” cars like this one in 1950. So, this photo is likely from 1950 or 1951.

Four across

This car model offered four-across seating. Modern airlines offer this layout in their first class/business class cabins. Amtrak continues the four-across layout in their Superliner cars. Toilets were at the back of the car.

Railroads offered coach cars as bare-bones service. Amtrak’s incarnation of the line takes 46 hours to get from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The upside of a long train ride in coach is you’re not locked into the chair, as you would be on a plane. Riders ate in the dining car, strolled down to the lounge car, or just walked up and down the train to stretch. SP offered sleeper car service for a premium.

What’s important to remember is not everyone rides a long-haul route the entire way. So, if you wanted to take the train from New Orleans to, say, Lake Charles or Houston, hop on a Southern Pacific passenger car like this. Eight hours to Houston isn’t so bad.

The Route

SP inaugurated the route in 1894. They transferred it (along with all other passenger operations) to the national passenger railroad corporation, Amtrak, in 1971. The train runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles and return. The Amtrak’s Sunset makes twenty stops in between.

The cars

Prior to 1950, SP ran steel-sided “heavyweight” cars. They upgraded the flagship train in 1950, using corrugated aluminium siding. These cars weighed less. Their “streamlined” design offered a smoother ride. Additionally, the newer cars used upgraded trucks, better shock absorbers, etc.

The station

This car appears to be part of a ready-to-depart or just-arrived Sunset Limited consist. SP operated from Union Station on Rampart Street until Union Passenger Terminal in 1954. Trains coming into both stations used a car maintenance facility just to the side of the station tracks. Amtrak continues to use this facility, which back up to Earhart Boulevard. Pretty sure this isn’t the station itself, since there’s no roof over the tracks.

 

Biloxi Depot 1925 #TrainThursday

Biloxi Depot 1925 #TrainThursday

The L&N Railroad operated Biloxi Depot in 1925.

biloxi depot

Biloxi Depot

1925 photo of the the railroad depot at Biloxi. According to the Biloxi Historical Society, the Biloxi Daily Herald reported that the plans for the depot were in the hands of T.J. Rosell & Company as of January 5, 1901. On April 3, 1901, the paper reported that the depot was expected to open in two weeks.

Mendes

This photograph, by John Tibule Mendes, is listed by THNOC as “Unidentified Location.” To me, anything “unidentified” is a challenge. I put the image out on social media, and local railroad historian and expert Tony Howe replied back within minutes (thanks, Tony). So, that was enough to do a proper search. According to UNO Press:

Between 1916 and the mid-1930s, John Tibule Mendes (1888–1965) was a consistent and curious observer of life in New Orleans. His photographs are archived in The Historic New Orleans Collection.

It’s no surprise that Mendes meandered over to the Gulf Coast.

L&N

The Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L&N) owned and operated Biloxi Depot. Mendes likely traveled to Biloxi on an L&N train. L&N arrived and departed New Orleans from their passenger terminal at Canal Street and the river. The Aquarium of the Americas now stands on that site.

The State of Kentucky chartered the L&N in 1850. The railroad acquired the Pontchartrain Railroad in New Orleans in 1871. That acquisition enabled the connection of L&N’s system to downtown New Orleans. The L&N operated local and express passenger trains along the Gulf Coast. Those trains also provided mail service.

Amtrak

biloxi depot

After several attempts at restoring passenger service along the Gulf Coast, Amtrak extended the route of the Sunset Limited (Los Angeles to New Orleans) to Jacksonville, Florida, in 1993. The railroad discontinued that service in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Amtrak plans to restore service along the coast in stages. The first stage extends the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Mobile. With that in place, they would continue eastward.