Amtrak City of New Orleans heading out of town at different speeds.
Riding Amtrak City of New Orleans
The City of New Orleans is Amtrak’s New Orleans to Chicago route. It’s their version of the old Illinois Central train made famous by the song. For the last few months, the City passed through the intersection at Central Avenue in Old Jefferson very slowly, like this
By 11-August, the railroad decided to pick up the pace. This is the same intersection, but on the other side of the train. I’m of two minds on which angle I prefer. The closer-up position is fun, but taking a few steps back to the other side of the old IC (now Canadian National) main line offers good profile views.
Note the Transition Sleepers at the rear of the trains. This is interesting, because usually the transition sleepers only ran here on the Sunset Limited. That 3.5-day route required sleeping cabins for crew. The City routes are shorter, but still overnight. I don’t know if connecting private cars to the rest of the train is a factor, but the lower vestibule of these cars allows it.
There are still some days when you see the older GE P42DC “Genesis” engines pulling the City, but the Siemens Chargers are the solid, day-to-day power for the route. While the Crescent still runs the Genesis engines, that route is scheduled to phase into the Chargers by next year. The City ran with one P42 for years. Since switching to the Charger, the train uses two engines. The Charger could pull either the City or the Crescent with one engine. I guess the railroad doesn’t want to deal with breakdown issues. If something happens, there’s a backup and the train can just keep going. We’ll keep an eye out for the newer engines on the Back Belt.
Transition Sleeper bringing up the rear of the City of New Orleans.
AMTK 39008, a “transition sleeper” car, running on train #59, the City of New Orleans.The car’s design includes end vestibules at different levels. The car connects with the car in front of it on the upper level. These are “Superliner II” cars manufactured by Bombardier in the 1990s. They operate on Amtrak routes outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC). So, two of the trains that originate in New Orleans, the City of New Orleans and the Sunset Limited, operate Superliners. The third train, the Crescent, operates Viewliner II single-level cars. The Crescent travels to New York (Penn Station). The Crescent enters Manhattan via a tunnel. So, it uses the single-level cars.
Transition Sleeper car, connected to a single-level baggage car on the Sunset Limited.
Superliner II Sleeper, with high-level vestibule.
Amtrak normally runs the transition sleeper cars on routes also using standard baggage cars. Long-haul routes like the Sunset Limited require more baggage space than what’s on the lower level of Coach cars. So, the railroad uses the single-level cars that can travel the NEC. To ensure access to baggage, staff can move through the train on the upper level. When they reach the end of the transition car, they return to the lower level and through the vestibule. Since the transition connection is on a sleeper, engine crews use its roomettes for rest and sleep.
Transition sleeper connected to “heritage” car on the Sunset Limited.
Prior to Amtrak, most passenger rail operators ran single-level equipment. When the national rail corporation took over in 1971, it inherited seventy-three “Hi-Level” cars from Santa Fe. Passengers loved these cars, with their all-window roofs. When Amtrak moved to replace the “heritage” equipment, it ordered 235 two-level cars, which became the “Superliner I” rolling stock. Those cars reached the fleet by the late 1970s. They ran on the Sunset Limited starting in 1981.
A decade later, Amtrak upgraded the Superliner I cars with a new generation of two-levels. While the first-gen Superliners were manufactured by Pullman-Standard, that company was out of business at that time. They sold the designs and patents for the Superliners to Bombardier. That company delivered 140 cars to Amtrak. That total included forty-seven transition sleepers. Unlike the standard sleepers, which included full both full bedrooms and roomettes, the transitions only have roomettes. There are sixteen roomettes per car. The railroad sells the roomettes closer to the upper level door to passengers.
Amtrak began the process of replacing the Superliners in 2022. They anticipate having new cars in place by 2032.
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.