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.

 

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

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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

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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.