The Amtrak Crescent runs from New Orleans to New York City daily.
Amtrak Crescent, train #20 on the timetable, departing New Orleans on 6-October-2021. There are a couple of things about this particular run of note to train fans, so why not make a blog post about them! This train is pulled by two GE P42DC “Genesis” locomotives. Outside of the Northeast Corridor, the Genesis locos are the backbone of Amtrak operations. This train consists of the two locomotives, three coach cars, a cafe car, two sleepers, and a full baggage car. When the pandemic forced schedule changes, the Crescent cut back to 3-days-a-week service. Then it returned to daily service with two coaches. Now it’s back to daily with three. The Crescent departs New Orleans daily at 9am Central time.
New Orleans to New York
Viewliner coach on the Amtrak Crescent
The Crescent’s roots go back to 1891. In 1906, the route was named the New Orleans and New York Limited. By 1925, it was dubbed the Crescent Limited. Amtrak operates the Crescent in “local” service, so they dropped “Limited” from the name.
The train departs Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans (Amtrak code NOL) at 9am Central. It reaches this point, the underpass at Canal Boulevard, about 9:26am. The Norfolk Southern “Back Belt” has no grade crossings in Orleans Parish. The Amtrak Crescent won’t stop until it reaches Slidell.
This full baggage car is atypical for the Crescent lately. The train usually runs a “Bag Dorm” car at the end. That car is half-baggage compartment, and half “roomettes.” The crew takes rest breaks in those compartments.
Dining and sleeping
Viewliner Cafe car
The Crescent operates Amtrak’s “Viewliner” equipment. While the other two trains running out of NOL use the two-level “Superliner” cars, the Crescent requires single-level equipment. The Superliners won’t fit in the tunnel going to Penn Station in NYC. So, passengers booking full bedrooms or roomette compartments ride in cars like the one above.
Viewliner sleeper car
Amtrak discontinued full diner cars on the Crescent in 2019. The train ran both a diner and Cafe cars like the one above. So, to cut back on expenses, the railroad only uses the Cafes
Norfolk Southern track geometry uses NS 33 and NS 34.
NS “research” train consist on the NS “Back Belt” in Lakeview
Norfolk Southern Track Geometry
NS 9455, a GE C40-9W locomotive, pulling “research” cars NS 34 and NS 33
NS 33 and NS 34 passed along the Norfolk Southern Back Belt at the end of March. The pair are loaded with equipment that simulates car loads and sensors to pick up how those loads react on NS track across the country. A regular locomotive pulls both cars. NS 33 is a converted passenger coach. NS 34 began as an EMD SD35 locomotive. The railroad converted it into into a “slug,” an add-on unit that adds traction to a locomotive. Norfolk Southern then converted the slug into a “research sled.”
Research sled NS 34, paired with coach NS 33, gathering track geometry data.
NS 34 is a former locomotive slug used for testing track geometry. The vehicle is ballasted to elicit a response from the track similar to that of a loaded car or locomotive. An inertial package with a laser/camera system is mounted on one of the trucks to measure irregularities in track geometry and to acquire data on rail wear. A high-resolution machine vision system also acquires data on rail surface and crosstie/fastener condition. The cab was added to house the computers, control equipment, and a GPS system.
So, the research sled simulates cars and gathers data.
NS 33, a former UP coach, collects data from NS 34.
While NS 34 gathers data, NS 33 contains monitors and computers to collect data from the sensors in the research sled. The car started as Union Pacific steel streamlined coach 5441.
UP ordered the car from Pullman-Standard in 1950. They operated it as a coach until 1971. While railroads transferred most passenger equipment to Amtrak at this time, UP sold 5441 to Alaska Railroad. Alaska RR operated it until 1987. They sold 5441 to the St. Louis Car Company. That company sold it to Norfolk Southern in 1994. The car spent five years at the NS Roanoke Shops. It returned to the rails as a research car in 1999.
I caught this consist while having coffee and writing at the PJ’s Coffee at 5555 Canal Blvd. Unfortunately I didn’t get up fast enough to set the phone to record video of it passing, as the train rolled Eastbound on the Back Belt. Sad at the missed opportunity, I went back to work. Imagine my surprise when, a few minutes later, the train came back!
It looks like they took the train West to the New Orleans Terminal Company connector track that leads to Union Passenger Terminal. They collected data from the switches there, then returned Eastbound. Then, they changed directions, continuing West. The direction changes caught me unawares, which is why there’s so many cars in the photos.
Penn Central heritage 1073 operating on the Norfolk Southern #BackBelt.
Penn Central heritage 1073.
From December 30, 2020, Norfolk Southern heritage 1073 heads eastbound on the Norfolk Southern #BackBelt, to the NS Gentilly yard. The engine is an EMD SD70ACe. While the engine bears the livery of the old Penn Central Railroad, it’s an NS unit and operates as such. Heritage units from all of the railroads are a treat to see go by.
The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) proposed a merger with the New York Central Railroad (NYC). They finalized the merger on February 1, 1968. PRR became the Pennsylvania New York Central Transportation Company. The company shortened that mouthful to the Penn Central Company in May of that year. The combined railroads operated under the brand name, “Penn Central,” with the logo seen on NS 1073.
As happens with many corporate mergers, the government weighed in before granting approval. The Interstate Commerce Commission specified a number of conditions to the PRR – NYC merger. They required that the combined company acquire the then-bankrupt New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad (NH, usually branded as the “New Haven.”) So, the merger finalized as a three-way combination.
While the PRR and NYC were profitable in February, 1968, the merged operation rapidly declined. When Penn Central filed for bankruptcy in 1970, it was the largest in US history.
Norfolk Southern acquisition
The Penn Central bankruptcy shook the nation. While the direct impact affected only the Northeast US, the financial implications spread everywhere. The government took steps to protect rail operations in the corridor in 1973. Penn Central assets served as the foundation of the Consolidated Rail Corporation (ConRail), when that entity was created in 1976. By 1998, Norfolk Southern and CSX considered ConRail ripe for acquisition. They split ConRail, 58%-42%. That’s how Norfolk Southern obtained PRR facilities.
Norfolk Southern celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2012. The railroad marked the milestone by painting twenty locomotives in the liveries of its predecessors. NS 1073 came off the EMD line in 2012. It continues to operate in the PC heritage scheme.