Missiles traveling through Avondale
Southern Pacific Alco RS units passing through Avondale, LA, 1960. (Franck-Bertacci Studios photo courtesy THNOC)
Missiles in Avondale
a Southern Pacific Railroad train pulls missile parts through the railroad’s yard in Avondale, Louisiana, 7-Sep-1960. Several Alco road switcher engines pull flatcars containing the parts.
Google Earth view of the Avondale shipyard and rail yard facilities.
In 1938, Avondale Marine Ways opened on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. By 1941, the barge repair facility expanded, building ships for the war. So, the company survived the transition to peacetime, landing contracts to build vessels for the offshore energy industry. The owners sold the company to the Ogden Corporation in 1951. Ogden renamed the facility, Avondale Shipyards. The shipyard landed a number of Navy contracts throughout the Cold War. Therefore, the shipyard became a big part of the metro New Orleans economy in the 1950s/1960s.
Southern Pacific at Avondale
Containers carrying missile parts on “piggyback” flatcars. (Franck-Bertacci photo courtesy THNOC)
The railroad was an important part of the shipyard complex. So, Southern Pacific delivered raw materials to the riverfront construction facilities. The rail yard didn’t exist solely because of the shipyard, though. The Texas and New Orleans Railroad was a SP subsidiary. So, they initially operated a large yard in Algiers. After the Huey P. Long Bridge opened in 1931, the railroad moved upriver. Trains heading west through New Orleans crossed the Huey. Then they continued over T&NO tracks. This included the SP “name trains” such as the Sunset Limited.
SP inaugurated “piggyback” service in 1953. This cargo starts on truck trailers which were then loaded onto flatcars.
Southern Pacific fully absorbed T&NO in 1961.
SP “Piggyback” flatcars. (Frank-Bertacci Studios photo via THNOC)
It’s hard to discern the full story of these missile parts from the photos alone. Avondale Shipyards built a number of destroyers and destroyer escorts for the Navy. These ships suited the facility. Like many shipyards along the Mississippi River, this facility built ships in the river. They launched the completed ships sideways. The ships then steamed off, to the shipyard’s finishing docks, or to other locations.
Rocket and missile technology developed rapidly, post-WWII. The Space Race leveraged military missile technoloy. NASA’s first manned space program, Mercury is an example. They started with the Army’s Redstone missile.
So, it’s possible that this train delivered missile parts to the shipyard. Destroyers carry missiles. It’s also possible that these parts originated at, say the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. The trains heading west certainly crossed the river via the Huey, heading to Texas and points west.
Southern Railway, now Norfolk Southern, maintains the #BackBelt railroad connection.
Plate girder bridges crossing the now-filled-in New Basin Canal, 1960.
The New Orleans and North Eastern (NONE) Railroad connected New Orleans with Meridian, Mississippi, in 1883. NONE operated from Terminal Station, located at Canal and Basin Streets, when that station opened in 1908. The Southern Railway system acquired NONE in 1916. Southern Railway, now Norfolk Southern, expanded their holdings and operations in New Orleans over the past hundred years.
The Back Belt
Pontchartrain Expressway meets the Back Belt, 1960
Norfolk Southern enters the metro New Orleans area from the East, on the Lake Pontchartrain Railroad Bridge. From there, NS trains travel on tracks following Florida Avenue, through Gentilly and Mid-City. NS also spins off the Back Belt connecting to the company’s Oliver Yard, between Press/St. Ferdinand Streets and Montegut Street. The Back Belt connects with CN tracks in Metairie. That route leads out of the city to the West.
The most-visible part of the NS connection is at the boundary between Mid-City and Lakeview, in New Orleans. The train tracks cross I-10 at this point.
Boats meet Trains
The New Basin Canal ran from Lake Pontchartrain to S. Rampart Street. Irish immigrants made up the bulk of the labor force that built the canal in the 1830s. The Southern Railway system needed to cross the New Basin Canal to get across the city. The railroad built a bridge across the canal just north of Metairie Cemetery (on the canal’s west bank) and Greenwood Cemetry (on the east bank). That bridge served the railroads until the city’s decision to close the canal in 1937. The city filled in the canal’s turning basin some of the canal, up to the intersection of Tulane and S. Carrollton Avenues. World War II delayed further work. After the war, the city filled in the rest of the waterway, from Tulane Avenue/Airline Highway, to the lake.
Waterway to Highway
Run-around track at the Pontchartrain Expressway, 1960
The city planned to build an expressway over what used to be the New Basin Canal. The idea was to provide commuters from Lakeview and Metairie with an easier route into downtown. That expressway would eventually link with a bridge over the Mississippi River.
Building an expressway required a re-design of the over-water bridge Southern Railway used over the New Basin Canal. In 1960, work began on demolishing the original bridge. They replaced that bridge with a wider underpass. The first step in constructing the underpass was to re-route the train tracks. They built a “run-around” track to bypass the bridge. Once the run-around became operational, they could demolish the bridge. The new underpass structure went up. The construction crews demolished the run-around, leaving what we see now, over I-10.
Lakeview in the 1950s
Metairie Road/City Park Avenue at the New Basin Canal, 1960
The construction photos show Lakeview before I-10 swallowed up the area. The filled-in canal area is empty. The Pontchartrain Expressway begins south of Metairie Road at this point. The entrance to the expressway stretched north after the completion of the railroad underpass.
All the while, Southern Railway ran across the city. After 1954, Southern passenger trains followed the Pontchartrain Expressway, turning north, then east, onto the Back Belt, to head out of town.