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.
Cemetery curses revisited: is the Caesers Superdome really cursed?
Map of the area around Caesar’s Superdome. The red rectangle shows the outline of Girod Street Cemetery.
The Saints: Cemetery curses revisited
Portion of the Robinson Atlas of 1883 showing Girod Street Cemetery
As we approach Halloween, fans of the New Orleans Saints often return to the topic of the Superdome and the Cemetery. While much research exists on the boundaries of Girod Street Cemetery and the Superdome, the curse theory always returns. The talk always gets serious when the Saints aren’t playing well.
We’ve discussed this before and in detail: Girod Cemetery isn’t under Da Dome. Still, folks find remains in the vicinity of the stadium that are outside the perimeter of the cemetery. This happens all over the city, and there are reasons for burials outside established cemeteries.
Indigenous burial mounds in the city come as no surprise. The native tribes were here before the colonizers, after all. Most of these mounds stand on high ground. When the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority discovered human remains near Canal Blvd. and City Park Avenue as part of bus/streetcar terminal construction, it made sense. The area is on the Metairie Ridge. It’s high ground. Since cemeteries surround the intersection, those remains were a combination of indigenous people and colonizers.
It takes years for government to green-light cemetery construction. While the wrangling takes place, families often buried loved ones in the general vicinity of the proposed site. It’s not like they could wait for things to shake out, after all. So, figuring close was better than not, they did what they felt they had to do.
Section of the Robinson Atlas of 1883 showing St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, along Claiborne Avenue in Faubourg Treme
Even after a cemetery opened for business, people often couldn’t afford the price of a plot, much less an above-ground tomb. The same thinking as initial disorganization applied. Let’s get the departed close. A walk through the cemetery connected those still living with the dead, even if they couldn’t put flowers on a grave.
When a cemetery falls into disrepair, things get messy. This was the case with Girod Street. The chapter of Christ Episcopal did not adequately prepare for long-term maintenance of the cemetery. By the 1950s, the cemetery was in ruins. Grave robbers discarded coffins and remains all over the cemetery, in search of valuables. Naturally some of the remains ended up outside the cemetery walls.
This is also a complicated subject. It was important to Christians that those buried in “holy ground” were free of serious sin. For example, if a spouse committed adultery, but did not seek forgiveness for the mortal sin, the family who owned the plot might refuse that person burial. A priest might refuse to preside over the rites of burial. Those close to the deceased were told to find someplace else. Another reason for exclusion from consecrated ground was suicide. Clergy and family would reject any connection to a person who took their own life.
In most of these cases, there were relatives who disagreed with this harsh treatment. While they were unable to get the departed inside the walls, they buried their loved one close by. Therefore, numerous reasons exist to explain remains outside the cemeteries.
Bywater streetcar complications involve the Norfolk Southern Railroad.
NOPSI 1005, ca. 1935. Franck Studios via HNOC
St. Claude Line Bywater streetcars
NOPSI 1005, running on the St. Claude Avenue line, approximately 1935 (Franck Studios photo via HNOC). The car is heading outbound from N. Rampart Street. The 1000-series were the pinnacle of engineering development for the arch roof streetcars. The 1000s kept the original Perley A. Thomas design, with additions under the carriage. While the 400, 800, and 900s operated with two motors, the 1000s had four, one for each set of wheels.
Railroad versus Streetcar
Norfolk Southern train crossing the Industrial Canal, 13-Dec-2019, via Commons user Bl20gh114
St. Claude Avenue and Press Street, in the Upper Ninth Ward, is one of the few locations where streetcars and railroad equipment meet at grade. While the railroads own the Riverfront, the streetcar line operates in parallel to the New Orleans Public Belt RR tracks. The “Back Belt,” originally constructed for the NO&NE and Frisco by the New Orleans Terminal Company, includes a number of automobile underpasses. Once the Back Belt hits Orleans Parish, there are no grade crossings until Slidell.
After the consolidation of passenger rail into Union Passenger Terminal, those trains operated away from automobiles. The tracks run more-or-less parallel to the Pontchartrain Expressway. They merge into the Back Belt just past Greenwood Cemetery.
NOPSI 1371, a trackless trolley, inbound over the Industrial Canal at St. Claude Avenue, approaching Press Street, ca. 1950. City photo.
So, the most significant point of contention between railroad and streetcar was St. Claude and Press. NO&NE/Southern connected to the Public Belt from their Gentilly yard via tracks at Press Street. NOPSI streetcars crossed the train tracks there with few problems for decades. The overhead catenary presented no issues for the railroad. This continued after NOPSI discontinued the 1000-series streetcars in 1949. They scrapped those beauties, replacing them with trackless trolleys. The electric buses received power through the catenary, like the streetcars. They ran across Press, across the Industrial Canal, all the way down to the sugar refinery.NOPSI converted St. Claude from trackless trolleys to diesel buses in 1964. They cut down the overhead wires.
TTGX “tri-level” auto carrier, on the Norfolk Southern Back Belt, 22-Sep-2022.
While streetcars never left New Orleans, NOPSI reduced operations down to the St. Charles line in 1964. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority expanded streetcar service, introducing the Riverfront line in 1988. The success of Riverfront led to returning streetcars to the Canal line in 2004. Economic stimulus money from the federal government offered an opportunity to further expand streetcars in 2010. NORTA constructed a partial return of the St. Claude line. The line operates from Canal Street, along N. Rampart, then St. Claude, to Elysian Fields.
The line stops at Elysian Fields because NORTA and Norfolk Southern can’t come to terms on running the overhead wires over Press and St. Claude. Since the overhead departed almost sixty years ago, it’s on NORTA to change the status quo. The railroad argues that modern rolling stock, such as tri-level auto carriers, are too high for streetcar wires. NORTA disputes this, and they’re right. Still, Norfolk Southern continues to oppose restoring a grade crossing at this intersection.
My Veterans Bus memories go back over fifty years.
Veterans Bus Memories
Old and new photos of buses operating on the Veterans Blvd. line. The line, originally operated by Louisiana Transit Company, now Jefferson Transit (JeT), originally ran from Canal Blvd. and City Park Avenue, out to Veterans Blvd. and Loyola Avenue in Kenner. The photos from the 1970s (courtesy of Mike Strauch, the man behind streetcarmike.com) are of General Motors “New Looks” buses operated by Louisiana Transit in the 70s. The newer buses are from 16-August-2022, shot at the Cemeteries Transit Terminal. The Veterans line (now known as the “E1” line services the “new” terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY).
MC 320 on the Veterans Memorial line eastbound east of Oaklawn Dr. in the late 1970s. (Courtesy streetcarmike.com)
When I attended Brother Martin High School in the mid-1970s, I had two basic options for getting home in the afternoon. One was to take either the then-NOPSI Broad or Carrollton bus lines to Canal Street, transfer to one of the outbound Canal lines, then catch the Veterans line at City Park Avenue. The other option was the “Lakeview” run. We’d take the then-NOPSI Cartier Line, which ran on Mirabeau to Spanish Fort, then transfer to the Canal (Lake Vista via Canal Blvd) line heading inbound. When that bus got to Canal Blvd, we’d transfer to the Canal (Lakeshore via Pontchartrain Blvd) line, and ride that to Pontchartrain and Veterans Boulevards. Then out to Metairie on the Veterans. The buses were GM “New Looks,” and occasionally, the air conditioning actually worked.
The Modern Veterans Line
Map of the Veterans E1 line, via JeT.
Da Airport’s “new” terminal opened in 2019. That changed access to the airport dramatically. Instead of approaching the original terminal from Airline Drive (US 61), flyers exit I-10 at Loyola Avenue, cross Veterans Blvd, and enter the terminal from there. So, instead of the old “Airport Express” and “Kenner Local” bus lines, access to the airport via public transit is by the E1 – Veterans (Airport) line. The E1 now goes all the way into the CBD, on Canal Street. It picks up passengers at limited stops along Canal. When the line reaches the end of Canal, at City Park Avenue, it returns to its traditional route. The line enters I-10 at City Park Avenue, then immediately exits at West End Blvd. It runs onto Veterans Blvd, where it heads west to Loyola Ave. The E1 then turns into the airport. It terminates at the airport and returns for the inbound trip. While there is no “express” service to the airport, the price ($2 one way from the CBD) is right.
Rear view of JeT E1 bus. at the Cemeteries Terminal.
Jefferson Transit (JeT) was created in 1982. Prior to that, Louisiana Transit operated buses on the East Bank, and Westside Transit on the West Bank. When the state created the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority in 1984 to assume operations of transit lines in Orleans Parish, Jefferson Parish chose to operate buses in the suburbs independently. (The City of Kenner did join NORTA at that time). JeT purchased buses from the two legacy companies and contracted with them to operate the lines. In 2006, JeT consolidated operations under a single contract, awarded to Veolia Transportation, Inc. They assumed control of operations in 2008.