Private varnish Berlin Sleeping Car rides to New York via the Amtrak Crescent.
Berlin Sleeping Car
The Amtrak Crescent 🌙 #20 pulled three private railcars to New York’s Penn Station (NYP on 25-February-2022. We talked about the two Patrick Henry railcars in a previous post. So, the private car, “Berlin” was the third car. This photo shows Berlin coupled to AMTK 69001, a “Bag-Dorm” car. Those cars provide baggage storage for passengers. Additionally, they contain roomettes for crew.
Berlin bears the paint scheme and livery of the American Orient Express, a private railcar charter, and previous owner of the car. While the livery is similar to the Patrick Henry cars, there are two operators.
Union Pacific Sleepers
Pullman-Standard built ten “Placid” series sleeper cars for Union Pacific in 1956. The cars contained 11 double-bed compartments. UP operated the Placids until 1971. The railroad turned them over to Amtrak at that time. Amtrak operated the sleepers throughout the 1970s. American Orient Express acquired three of the Placids. They renamed Placid Lake, “Berlin,” and Placid Waters, “Vienna.” Those names tied into the AOE theme.
The Placid series Pullmans were streamliners. While other railroads chose the corrugated style for their new cars, UP operated smooth-siders. The City of Portland and City of Los Angeles, two of UP’s “name trains,” operated the Placids. Amtrak took these cars into service as part of their “heritage” fleet. As the national passenger railroad acquired its own equipment, Viewliner and Superliner sleepers, they phased out the Placids. Private charter companies refurbished the older cars. They offered charter service, re-creating the “golden” age of streamliners.
The Berlin Sleeping Car’s website presents a detailed history of Placid Lake/Berlin. They include photos of the UP and Amtrak incarnations of Placid Lake. The site includes a floor plan of the car’s current interior. Berlin now contains six bedrooms and an kitchenette. This offers passengers a great more space than the eleven double-occupancy rooms of the UP design.
While private railcar adventures aren’t cheap, the charters usually are priced per trip. So, if you put together a group of twelve, it’s something to think about!
Amtrak #20 in New Orleans
The Amtrak Crescent operates daily service from New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal (NOL) to New York Penn Station (NYP), via Atlanta, Richmond, and DC. In this photo the Crescent pulls Berlin over the underpass at Canal Boulevard in New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood.
Operation Lifesaver Amtrak, a salute to the safety education organization.
Operation Lifesaver Amtrak
AMTK 203, a GE P-42 Genesis locomotive, painted to mark 50 years of Operation Lifesaver. The organization was originally sponsored by Union Pacific Railroad. OL promoted rail safety in the early 1970s. After localized campaigns in Idaho, the program expanded. Operation Lifesaver presented rail safety education nationally. Operation Lifesaver Amtrak demonstrates that passenger trains take safety seriously. AMTK 203 pulled the Amtrak Crescent #20 out of New Orleans (NOL) on 27-January-2022. Additionally, this was the day Catalpa Falls brought up the rear. Catalpa Falls is a restored Pullman car.
Operation Lifesaver accomplishments
The safety organization delivers its message to schools, community and civic groups. Additionally, OLI.org offers materials for download. They engage with film and television productions. Spotting unsafe actions in films, the group contacts production companies. While In 2006, they engaged with Pixar. They spotted a problematic scene in “Cars.” The lead character-car, “Lightning McQueen” races a train. While their advocacy doesn’t work all the time, they do have accomplishments.
OL offers a wide range of printed material for sale. Clubs and groups can distribute those materials. Additionally, OL offers merch such as t-shirts and keychains. So, safety-conscious supporters carry the message around regularly.
Amtrak endorses the OL mission wholeheartedly. Passenger trains operate at high speeds. Unsafe drivers and pedestrians present challenges for Amtrak. Amtrak cooperates with the railroads that own the tracks. So, every grade crossing displays a sign with a toll-free number. A motorist can call if they get stuck. They call, dispatchers stop trains.
We got word that AMTK 203 was on its way to NOL. It departed NOL two days later. It was a double-treat for train-watchers that morning. The Canal Boulevard underpass is quite the photo spot. Thanks, rail enthusiasts on social media!
North Carrollton Streetcars have operated only since 2005.
North Carrollton Streetcars
NORTA 2012, operating on the “Carrollton Spur” of the Canal Street line, 23-December-2021. One in three (or four, depending on how busy the line is) cars running on Canal spin off at Carrollton Avenue, traveling the length of North Carrollton Avenue, out to City Park. NORTA built the 2000-series “Von Dullen” streetcars in 2003/2004, for the return of streetcar operation on Canal. Like the green, 1923-vintage arch roof cars running on St. Charles Avenue, the Von Dullens get holiday decorations for Yuletide.
The Carrollton Spur
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority planned for streetcars back on Canal Street starting in the late 1990s. They pitched electric street rail operation to the Federal Transportation Authority at a time when local governments only had to put up 20% of the cost. So, once the city assembled a financial package, the Feds got on board. Additionally, they pitched an extension of the traditional Canal route, a “spur” going down Carrollton Avenue. This spur connects Canal Street with City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
The original plan was to get the almost-five miles of Canal Street track done and settled, then NORTA would turn its attention to the spur in a year or two. When George W. Bush became POTUS in 2001, the FTA dramatically cut back their contribution to street rail projects. Despite securing funding for the Canal project, NORTA became concerned. They moved up the plan to run North Carrollton Streetcars. So, construction began on the spur as the main line approached completion.
As much as construction-related street closures interrupted business along N. Carrollton, most owners saw the streetcars as a good thing in the long-term. While Hurricane Katrina slammed down economic growth immediately, the streetcars eventually boosted the neighborhood.
First time streetcars
Back in the days when New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) operated transit in the city, they never ran North Carrollton Streetcars. This is because of the Southern Railway’s “Bernadotte Yard.” The railroad built an extensive rail yard in Mid-City New Orleans. It ran from Canal Boulevard and Bernadotte Street, down St. Louis Street, crossing N. Carrollton, up to Dr. Norman C. Francis Parkway. So, when the rail yard reached N. Carrollton, six railroad tracks crossed the street.
Now, that many railroad tracks was bad enough for automobile and truck traffic. Those tracks made it impossible for street rail to run down the street, crossing the tracks. So, NOPSI never ran streetcars on that side of Canal Street. They operated the “Carrollton” bus line, from Elysian Fields and Gentilly Road, to DeSaix Street, to Wisner, N. Carrollton, all the way to S. Carrollton and Claiborne Avenues, Uptown.
As you can see from the video, the Carrollton Spur operates in the street, not the neutral ground. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the entire Canal line used the old arch-roof cars, as the Von Dullens underwent repairs.
Amtrak Kenner – The City of New Orleans heading out of and into downtown.
Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, #58 (Northbound), passing through Kenner, Louisiana, approximately 20 minutes out of Union Passenger Terminal (NOL). The train picks up speed as it leaves the New Orleans metro area, to head out along Lake Pontchartrain. So, after clearing the lake, it turns north (on the old IC, now CN tracks) to run parallel to I-55, and off to Chicago. Therefore, the route is essentially unchanged from the days when the Illinois Central operated the all-Pullman “Panama Limited” and the City.
This intersection is Williams Boulevard, in the “Laketown” section of the city of Kenner. While the platform to the left of the tracks is now unused, it was built to be the terminus of an experimental Amtrak line that ran from here to NOL in 1984. The plan was to connect the suburbs with a rail diesel car for commuter service. The concept didn’t last beyond the trial period, which coincided with the 1984 World’s Fair in downtown New Orleans.
Diner (Cross Country Cafe – CCC)
The train is pulled by a single GE P-42 Genesis locomotive.
Heading to New Orleans
The Southbound/inbound trip is Amtrak #59. Like the northbound train, #59 is approximately 20 minutes away from arrival at Union Passenger Terminal (NOL). The train still moves quickly through Kenner, as it enters the metro area from Lake Pontchartrain.
At some point during the 8 minutes separating the northbound and southbound trains at this point, they passed each other, then #59 changed to the north (lake side in NOLA geographic terms), approaching NOL on the track #58 used to depart.
The southbound consist differs from #58 in that it has one more coach car. As on #58, the train is pulled by a single Genesis locomotive. Unlike the Crescent and Sunset Limited trains, the trip up the Mississippi Valley only requires the power of one engine.
The school off to the left (lake) side of the tracks is Our Lady of Perpetual Help School. OLPH is the oldest Catholic parish in Jefferson Parish.
Norfolk Southern 1073 on the New Orleans Back Belt.
Penn Central livery on Norfolk Southern 1073
NS 1073 heads Eastbound on the “Back Belt” in New Orleans. The EMD SD70ACe loco leads a short consist out to the railroad’s yard in Gentilly. Norfolk Southern 1073 crosses the back belt underpass at Marconi Avenue, as it enters New Orleans City Park. The engine bears the livery of the Penn Central Railroad, the entity that resulted from the merger of the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central Railroad. The combined entity was later acquired by Norfolk Southern, which is why it’s their heritage.
Pennsy to Penn Central
The Pennsylvania Railroad struggled in the 1960s, as the federal government built the nation’s Interstate Highway System. As the trucking industry grew, so did financial troubles for the railroads. The Pennsy absorbed the also-struggling New York Central Railroad, along with the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. The Penn Central operated from 1968 to 1976.
The Penn Central went bankrupt in 1976. PC and five other struggling railroads came together to form the Consolidated Railroad system, better known as Conrail. By 1996, Conrail sought a larger railroad to buy it out. The CSX system was interested. Norfolk Southern became concerned that CSX would grow too big, so they stepped in, offering to buy a portion of Conrail. CSX and NS divided up Conrail. So, Penn Central entered the Norfolk Southern system/fold.
About Norfolk Southern 1073
Norfolk Southern photo of their Heritage units. NS1073 is 8th from the left.
Electro Motive Diesel (EMD) manufactured NS1073 in May, 2012. So, in terms of many of the locomotives you see on the rails today, 1073 is a relatively young engine. EMD started the SD70 line in 1992. This model, the SD70ACe, dates to 2005. Norfolk Southern celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2012 by painting twenty locomotives in the liveries of the railroads that made up the NS system. NS 1073, new off the EMD line, got the Penn Central livery. The loco makes the occasional appearance on the back belt.
The Centanni home, located on Canal and S. Murat Streets, was a magical place for kids growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Mr. Sam Centanni, owner of Gold Seal Creamery, decorated the house annually. The lights and figures drew New Orleanians from across the metro area. Centanni turned off the lights when his wife passed in 1966. Now, a Centanni descendant owns the house. They’ve renewed the Christmas tradition.
Gold Seal Creamery
Antonino Centanni founded Gold Seal Creamery in the 1920s. Mid-City was very Sicilian at that time. Immigrants from Sicily arrived in numbers, starting in the 1880s. They quickly took over most of the Vieux Carre’s business locations. Pasta factories, bakeries, shoemakers, eventually even hotels came under Sicilian ownership. By 1915, the community asked the Archdiocese for permission to move St. Anthony of Padua Church from N. Rampart Street to Canal and S. St. Patrick Streets in Mid-City. Sicilians moved into the neighborhood bounded on one side by the New Canal and the Southern Railway’s Bernadotte Yard on the other.
Centanni opened his dairy at S. Alexander and D’Hemecourt Streets. This was close enough to the New Canal and Banks Street to easily take in raw milk in from farms via boat and truck. The dairy serviced the Mid-City neighborhood. The Centannis were the first local dairy to bring in homogenizing equipment. They homogenized milk for other dairies as well, increasing the profit of their business. Gold Seal branched out, selling “Creole Cream Cheese” to families and bakeries. Gold Seal’s cream cheese became the primary ingredient in cannolis, the Sicilian pastry, at many bakeries.
The Centanni Home
The success of Gold Seal meant the Centanni’s acquired some wealth. Antonino’s son, Sam, worked with his father in the business, and eventually took it over. He built the house at Canal and S. Murat Street, where he lived with his wife, Myra and their children. Mrs. Centanni went all-out in decorating the house for the season. In 1946, with wartime restrictions on lights and electricity consumption lifted, the Centannis went all-out in decorating the house. Myra added to their collection of wooden figures, adding plastic ones by the 1960s.
As the display grew, so did its reputation. Folks would add the Centanni home as one of their stops to go see Christmas lights in other neighborhoods. The display awed and inspired children throughout the 1950s, including a young man from the Ninth Ward named Al Copeland. Al would credit the Centannis as the inspiration for the huge light display at his Metairie home.
Myra Centanni passed on New Year’s Eve, 1966. Sam turned the lights off. In later years, the family allowed the display to live on. They donated many of the pieces to City Park. The park incorporated them into the annual “Celebration in the Oaks” presentation. While much of the Centanni pieces were older and “outdated,” City Park required so many things to fill out Storyland and the Botanical Gardens, the decorations were welcome.
Gold Seal Lofts
Mr. Sam sold Gold Seal Creamery in 1986. He was 88, and ready to hang it up. The building is now the “Gold Seal Lofts,” a condo conversion. The condos use a modified version of the Gold Seal logo.
The Modern House
Over fifty years after Myra passed, the Centanni home lights up Mid-City. With so many things “ain’t there no more,” it’s nice to see Mr. Bingle looking down from the porch.