NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows on Twelfth Night.
NORTA 922 and the Phunny Phorty Phellows, Twelfth Night, 2023. Kerri Becker photo.
Seeing NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows is a treat.
The Phunny Phorty Phellows (PPP) announce the arrival of the Carnival season. While there are other organizations parading on Twelfth Night, PPP are the senior members of the cohort. We’ve written a bit about PPP here, but the star of this post isn’t the krewe. It’s the streetcar! NORTA 922 is one of the remaining vintage 1923-24 arch roof streetcars designed by Perley A. Thomas. They dominated the New Orleans transit landscape from their debut to the conversion of the Canal Street line to buses in 1964. There are 35 remaining 900-series cars.
A streetcar numbered 922
While any of the “green streetcars” is more than capable of transporting PPP on their run, NORTA 922 adds a bit of flair to the proceedings. It’s the streetcar from the streetcar movie. The film adaptation of Tennesee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire required a streetcar. The rail department of New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) chose car 922 to be the streetcar. The movie opens with it, and the rest is, well, less history and more legend.
So, NORTA 922 was a movie star. By the 1970s, however, an imposter took credit for 922’s starring role! NOPSI 453, a wood-frame Brill streetcar, received the appelation, “Streetcar Named Desire.” This streetcar functioned for decades as the “training car.” NOPSI installed it at their facility on Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue. They rigged the operator’s console with the same equipment as the 900-series. New-hire motormen (and the “motorettes” during WWII) trained on 453. It was set up to rock and bump. Senior motormen taught the new folks.
As streetcar service in New Orleans dwindled, so did the training needs. NOPSI 453 stood idle. The story of how this streetcar became identified with the movie is fascinating. I invite you to go read this article by Earl W. Hampton, Jr. and H. George Friedman, Jr., for details and lots of photos.
922 back at work
In the meantime, NOPSI 922 went back to work on the St. Charles line. It’s done its duty well, coming up on a century of service. One of those duties is charter rides, like the PPP. On Twelfth Night, the news folks and photographers head to Carrollton Station to see off the year’s designated driver. They file their stories and go home, as the streetcar rolls the krewe down S. Carrollton Avenue, turning onto St. Charles Avenue. They announce the start of Carnival along St. Charles. When the streetcar reaches Tivoli Circle, the streetcar circles around. It becomes an outbound car, returning to the barn.
On a side note, streetcar 922 started live as NOPSI 922, and was designated as such from when it first rolled out of the barn. In 1983, NOPSI transferred its transit division to a new entity. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority assumed control of the city’s transit routes and assets. So, those 35 green streetcars switched to the new notation.
Amtrak Crescent #20, 29-December-2022, departing New Orleans. AMTK 164, a GE P42-DC “Genesis” in the lead, with AMTK 514, a GE P32-8WH (commonly referred to as a “Dash-8”) behind. Crescent #20 departs Union Passenger Terminal (NOL) at 0915CST. It runs parallel to I-10, which was a navigation canal until 1949. The track continues trough Mid-City New Orleans, turning east when it reaches the Norfolk-Southern “Back Belt.” this connection is directly behind Greenwood Cemetery. Prior to the opening of UPT in 1954, Southern Railway operated the Crescent. That train operated from the L&N terminal at Canal Street and the river.
Once on the Back Belt, there are no grade crossings through the city. The train crosses Lake Pontchartrain on the NS “five-mile bridge” to its first stop in Slidell, LA. From Slidell, it’s off through Mississippi and Alabama to Atlanta, then on to DC, ending at New York’s Penn Station (NYP).
The Crescent operates “Viewliner” equipment, rather than the “Superliners” used on the City of New Orleans and Sunset Limited. The current consist is 3 coaches, 1 cafe car, 2 sleepers, and a bag-dorm. It’s used this consist since vaccinations for COVID-19 became wide spread. Prior to vaccinations, the route went down to 3-day-per-week operations with two coaches and a single sleeper. Amtrak discontinued dining car service on the Crescent prior to the pandemic.
Illustration of Amtrak Dash-8 locomotives in “Pepsi Can” livery by JakkrapholThailand93 on Deviant Art.
Amtrak replaced their EMD F40PH units with Dash-8s. GE delivered this locomotive to Amtrak in 1991. They wore the “Pepsi Can” livery for years.
AMTK 514 is based here at NOL. The NOL crew operate 514 as a switcher to stage the Crescent, City of New Orleans, and Sunset Limited. The Dash-8 steps in for a run to NYP when weather and scheduling messes up the Genesis count.
AMTK 164, a GE P42DC “Genesis” locomotive, pulling the Crescent #20, 29-December-2022. Edward Branley photo.
By the mid-1990s, Amtrak replaced the Dash-8s with GE P42DC “Genesis” locomotives like AMTK 164, shown here.
Route 47 first car of the morning heads to the Cemeteries.
Early Morning Route 47
Early morning outbound on Route 47, the Canal Streetcar to the Cemeteries Terminal. ‘Twas a foggy morning, as NORTA 2021 heads up Canal. The car’s following the standard route out of the barn down the street at Canal and N. White Streets. It’s passing through Hennessey Street here, right by Blue Dot Donuts. The Canal cars exit the barn (next to Warren Easton High), turn right, heading outbound to Cemeteries. They then start a full run to the river.
the Canal line originally operated from Canal Station at N. White Street, down to the river. After two months in the summer of 1861, the New Orleans City Railroad Company expanded the route, up to Metaire Road/City Park Avenue. This enabled riders to easily get up to the cemeteries at that end of the street. Mid-City as we know it now didn’t exist. So, the trip past the streetcar barn moved fast. People got down to Cypress Grove, Greenwood, the three St. Patrick’s cemeteries, as well as several cemeteries owned by Jewish congretations.
When the streetcars reached the CBD, they connected with other lines, such as Esplanade, St. Claude, and the Carrollton (later St. Charles) line.
Canal Streetcar branches
For years, the Canal line serviced just stops on Canal Street. The sort-of exception to this was the years of “belt” service, where Canal ran in one direction and the Esplanade line in the other. Still, the line was just a straight shot up and down the city’s high street. In 2004, the line returned with not only the streetcars operating on Canal, but also on N. Carrollton Avenue. The “Carrollton Spur” runs from the river, but then makes a right-turn onto N. Carrollton Avenue in Mid-City. NOPSI and NORTA serviced this part of Carrollton Avenue with buses, since there were so many railroad tracks crossing the street. By the time of the return of the Canal line, it was easy to run the Von Dullen cars out to City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Mystic Canal Street
The fog offers such visual impressions! Fantastic writing prompts to let your imagination run wild.
AMA on streetcars! If I don’t have an answer, I’ll likely work to find it.
The Amtrak Crescent #20 led by an Anniversary locomotive.
Crescent #20 to New York
Amtrak Crescent #20 heads north to Atlanta, DC, and New York (Penn Station), 30-November-2022. AMTK 160 pulls the train, supported by AMTK 142. Both locomotives are GE P42DC “Genesis” models. The Genesis locos travel all the major Amtrak routes. The special paint scheme for AMTK 160 is the “Pepsi Can” livery. It’s one of six locos specially painted for the railroad’s 50th anniversary. The special “50th” logo is visible at the rear of the locomotive. The train crosses the Canal Boulevard underpass in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans. It travels East, then North, crossing Lake Pontchartrain to its first stop in Slidell, LA.
The Crescent route, from New Orleans to New York, began in 1925. While railroads operated trains to and from New York before this, Southern Railway created the “Crescent” brand that year. Southern retained the Crescent route until 1979. Amtrak assumed control then.
AMTK 160 bears the livery used on the railroad’s GE C40-8W locomotives. Those engines had the nickname “Dash-8.” Amtrak purchased a number of Dash-8s from General Electric in the 1990s. Their red-white-blue paint scheme bore a resemblance to a can of Pepsi-Cola. So, the nickname stuck.
Amtrak Dash-8s operate mostly in support roles these days. One calls NOL home, used mostly as a switcher between the engine house and UPT. Occasionally, a Dash-8 joins a Genesis for the Crescent run. Since none of the Dash-8s regularly pull trains, Amtrak painted AMTK 160 in honor of them.
The Back Belt
I usually catch the Crescent #20 at Canal Boulevard. There’s a PJ’s Coffee Shop right at the river side of the train underpass. We call those tracks the “Back Belt.” They’re originate in Jefferson Parish and run up to the 5-mile railroad bridge crossing Lake Pontchartrain. New Orleans Terminal Company originally built the Back Belt. Southern Railway acquired NOTC in 1916.
Siemens Chargers on the City of New Orleans, departing NOL.
AMTK 300, a Siemens Charger, and AMTK 126, a GE Genesis, pull the City of New Orleans
Siemens Chargers at work
ALC-42, Siemens Chargers, operate now on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans route. AMTK 300 and AMTK126 pull the City out of Union Passenger Terminal, New Orleans, 19-October-2022. The blue-liveried Charger has the lead. While the City usually operates with a single engine, AMTK 126, an older General Electric P42DC “Genesis” engine, deadheads on the northern route. Illinois Central operated the City of New Orleans from 1947 to 1971. IC’s primary train from Chicago to New Orleans was the all-sleeper, Panama Limited. So, they added the City as a lower-cost alternative. Amtrak took the route over in 1971.
The two engines pull seven Superliner cars: 2 sleepers, 1 lounge car, and 4 coaches. The Superliners are double-decker passenger cars. Amtrak uses them outside the Northeast Corridor. Trains going to the NEC use single-level “Viewliner” equipment. While the City operated with a diner car prior to the pandemic, it continues to only offer snack bar service in the lounge car. Passengers order from the snack bar via the Amtrak phone app. They pick up their food and return to their seat or compartment.
Additionally, a Viewliner (single-level) car brings up the rear of #58 here. “American View” operates as an “inspection car.” This train pulls it up the former Illinois Central (now Canadian National) route to Chicago. More on American View in an upcoming post.
Amtrak’s City of New Orleans #59 19-October-2022, fifteen minutes from arrival at Union Passenger Terminal, New Orleans (NOL). The train, pulled by Siemens Charger AMTK 312, approaches Central Avenue in Jefferson, Louisiana, with one sleeper, one lounge, and five coaches, all Superliners. This is the southbound train. It departed Chicago the day before. The two trains, 58 and 59, meet each other just outside of town. When things run on schedule, it’s easy to wait a bit after 58 to catch 59.
MOW (Maintenance of Way) equipment keeps the trains running.
Norfolk Southern MOW vehicles changing direction on the Back Belt.
MOW equipment and trucks
Norfolk Southern Maintenance of Way (MOW) equipment along the Back Belt in New Orleans. These units perform regular work on the rails to insure quality. These vehicles are a ballast clearer and a spike repair unit. They maintain the track leading out to the 5-mile bridge and down to the NS Gentilly Yard.
The Back Belt
The Back Belt originates in Jefferson Parish, joining with the Kansas City Southern and Canadian National (formerly Illinois Central) main lines. As it reaches Orleans Parish, these tracks join with the New Orleans Terminal Company trackage at the New Basin Canal. The Pontchartrain Expressway replaced the canal in 1949. Now, the highway is part of I-10. New Orleans Terminal Company merged with the Southern Railway system (now Norfolk-Southern Railroad) in 1916. The NOTC track led out of old Union Station on S. Rampart Street. Union Passenger Terminal used the track starting in 1954. The Amtrak Crescent follows this track to the Back Belt, then out of town.
Types of MOW cars
Norfolk Southern operates a number of maintenance cars, including:
The top photo shows these units at work on the Back Belt. They use the crossovers between Marconi Drive and the track leading to UPT to change directions.
Norfolk Southern maintenance vehicles parked at the mouth of the old Bernadotte Yard, Mid-City
This photo shows the vehicles parked at the mouth of Southern Railway’s former Bernadotte Yard. These tracks are just to the east of Canal Boulevard. This rail yard was a mainstay of Southern’s local operations from the 1920s to the 1950s. Now, there are a couple of customers along the old access line in Mid-City. When the MOW units are working this area for a few days, the railroad parks them here.
Norfolk Southern maintenance pick-up truck (top), on the Back Belt
Trucks owned by the railroad appear regularly on the Back Belt. These units run with both rubber tires and steel train wheels. The truck pulls up to the track, and gets aligned. Then the driver lowers the steel wheels down. The truck proceeds as a train car! It’s a good way to do quick visual inspections, or move personnel up and down the line. A train’s coming? No problem, raise the wheels and roll down on the tires to a street.