Amtrak’s Superliners Viewliners, and an anniversary locomotive.
Two passenger rail videos for y’all today, Amtrak’s City of New Orleans and the Crescent. The City of New Orleans travels up to Chicago, and the Crescent to New York City’s Penn Station. The train to Chicago carries passengers on Superliner equipment. The Crescent uses Viewliner equipment.
Monday Morning Rails
Amtrak #58, the City of New Orleans, is a direct descendant of the Illinois Central Railroad (ICRR) route of the same name. While the ICRR considered the Panama Limited their premier route, Amtrak went with the “local” train’s name. They believed Arlo Guthrie’s version of the song would be better for marketing.
AMTK 37, a GE P42DC “Genesis” locomotive, pulled the City out of New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal (NOL) on 18-November-2021.
Amtrak operates two-level Superliner equipment outside of routes in and out of the Northeast Corridor. The railroad ordered 235 Superliners from Pullman-Standard in 1975. Employees of the US’s national passenger railroad chose the name, “Vistaliner” for the equipment. They later learned that name was copyrighted, so the cars became Superliners.The “Phase I” cars entered service in 1978.
Passengers embraced the Superliners with the same enthusiasm Santa Fe travelers embraced the old “Hi-Level” cars operated by that railroad in the 1950s and 1960s. So, Amtrak chalked them up as a success. Additionally, the railroad ordered additional Superliners in 1991. This time, the contract went to manufacturer Bombardier. The City rolled with Superliners in 1994. This past summer, Amtrak invested $28M in upgrades to the Superliner fleet.
Amtrak interited single-level passenger cars from passenger-train operators in 1971. So, they referred to these cars as “heritage” equipment. In the railroad’s first years, So, the Crescent continued operating with Southern Railway cars. While the heritage equipment remained the railroad’s backbone, Amtrak standardized the paint scheme to the red-white-and-blue stripe livery by 1974. While the Superliners excited rail passengers, the bi-level cars were too high for operation in the Northeast Corridor (NEC). Amtrak had concerns about the cars clearing tunnels into New York Pennsylvania Station (NYP) and Baltimore Pennsylvania Station.
By the early 1980s, the heritage cars showed their age. Amtrak contracted the Budd Company to develop single-level equipment for the NEC. So, Budd prototypes operated on Amtrak routes. Production cars, named “Viewliner,” entered service in 1995 as Viewliner I. A second generation, Viewliner II, entered service in 2011.
So, New Orleans gets to see both types of Amtrak equipment. Since the Crescent travels to NYP, it uses Viewliners. The City of New Orleans and the NOLA-to-Los Angeles Sunset Limit run Superliners.
Photo of Fort Livingston and its lighthouse, from the 1930s. The fort stands on Grand Terre Island, on the Louisiana Gulf Coast. It’s the only military fortification in Louisiana along the Gulf Coast. Other defenses for New Orleans stand further inland. The Lafitte brothers, Jean and Pierre established their smuggling base on Grand Terre Island in the early 1800s. The US Navy attacked their base in 1814, forcing them to re-locate. The government needed the Lafittes out so they could build coastal defenses. They began construction in 1834. After some delays, work began in earnest in 1840. Gus Beauregard, then a Major in the US Army, supervised the fort’s construction. By 1856, the government added the original lighthouse. Photo is from the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program at LSU.
The secession government of Louisiana occupied Fort Livingston in 1861. The state placed the fort under the command of General Mansfield Lovell. Lovell garrisoned the fort with 300 rebel troops. Their mission was coastal defense, but the Union navy squadron did not approach New Orleans via Bayou Barataria. The fort offered protection to blockade runners leaving New Orleans via Bayou Barataria. The garrison, with their fifteen guns, prevented the Union Navy from approaching the coast. Once in the open Gulf, blockade runners sported a better chance of getting to foreign ports.
Lovell withdrew the fort’s garrison in April of 1862. The invasion of New Orleans by Farragut and Butler rendered use of Fort Livingston moot. After the rebellion, the Army reduced the garrison at the fort to a single sergeant. Commercial interests developed on Grand Terre in the 1860s, most notably a shrimp cannery, in 1867. A hurricane severely damaged the fort in 1872. They removed the guns in 1889.
The first lighthouse at the fort became operational in 1856. That structure remained until 1903. That’s when the lighthouse in this photo was built. The lighthouse underwent renovation in the late 1920s. The lighthouse sustained massive damage in a hurricane that hit Grand Terre, July 14-15, 1931. This helps date the photo to prior to that storm.
Barataria shrimp trawler heading to the Gulf of Mexico.
Barataria shrimp trawler
The “Karaset C,” a trawler, heading out Bayou Barataria to the white shrimp fishing zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Howard “Cole” Coleman, undated, likely in the late 1950s. There are five or six people on the boat. Photo is part of the Thelma Hecht Coleman Memorial Collection at the Howard-Tilton Library, Tulane University. I am not familiar with shrimp boats, so I don’t know much about the details of this craft. If you do, feel free to discuss in comments.
White shrimp season
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries monitors quantities of shrimp in the inshore/Louisiana parts of the Gulf of Mexico. They set the dates for fishing white shrimp. The season runs from mid-August to December.Some shrimping areas remain open, even into the summer. The idea is to allow shrimpers to go out and make a living while allowing time for the shrimp to hatch and grow to a size that makes harvesting economical. So, every village down the bayous held a “Blessing of the Fleet,” and off the boats went.
So, this is the time of year where the boats head out to the Gulf. A classic joke in South Louisiana is that everyone’s a shrimper during hard economic times. While this was true at the time of this photo, climate change, tropical weather, and oil/gas mishaps present challenges to shrimpers.
When a trawler like Karaset C pull in their daily limit, they head back to port. Part of the daily routine for these boats and their crews is to load up with ice, early in the morning. They drop the nets, pull in shrimp, then head back to the dock. Brokers and processors bought the catches from the boats. Keeping their catch fresh in the August heat meant the shrimpers worked the inshore areas as long as they could. Boats that went further out into the Gulf risked the shrimp spoiling.
Once at the dock the boats sold the catch. In the case of docks like the one at the old Violet packing plant, boats could sell direct to the plant. Brokers and buyers from other plants would go to public docks, buy shrimp, then process them. The Violet plant created three end products. They broke off the heads of large-count shrimp and flash-froze them. The rest of the catch would be steamed, then machine-peeled. They used a conveyor-belt style peeler. The plastic on the belt expanded and contracted. This cracked the shells, which fell through to the floor. The shrimp went down the conveyor, where they were either canned or frozen. When I did computer support for that plant, I would love making excuses to go down to the plant, rather than the office in Elmwood. Pick up a loaf of french bread on the way down, and…shrimp po-boys!
The Kenner library branch in 1949 was on Airline Highway.
Kenner Library Branch
Photo of the interior of the Kenner Branch of the Jefferson Parish Library in 1949. The caption from the State Library of Louisiana reads: “B&W photo, Circa 1940s. Jefferson Parish library. Kenner, Louisiana. Airline Hwy. Left to right: Mrs. Beatrice Hidalgo and Mrs. Dixie Stephens.” If anyone knew these ladies, let us know in comments! The Kenner Branch at this time was on Airline Highway, near Williams Blvd. The branch later moved to Williams Blvd, near Kenner City Hall, in the 1960s.
Jefferson Parish Library System
The Jefferson Parish Police Jury authorized a public library for the parish in 1946. In 1949, the first public library opened at Huey P. Long Avenue and Fourth Street, By December of 1949, branches opened in Gretna. Metairie, Jefferson, Kenner, Harahan, Marrero, Gretna, and Westwego. The parish converted existing buildings to libraries. This enabled the quick expansion. Growth of the library system continued into the 1950s and 1960s. In Kenner, the original branch re-located, and a North Kenner branch opened. This fit the growth pattern of Kenner, as folks moved above Veterans Blvd.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita inflicted serious damage to a number of parish library branches. For example, Hurricane Rita damaged 33% of the North Kenner branch. While libraries play important roles in building communities, repairing such damage was a challenge. It’s not something that happens overnight. Fortunately, the system continues to recover and grow.
Growing up in Old Metairie, we used the branch at Metairie Road and Atherton St. So, that branch later moved further up Metairie Road to its current location. While it received damage from Katrina, the branch now thrives. When we bought our house, the Wagner Library, by Bissonet Plaza Elementary was our branch. Now, the East Bank Regional Library is home, to family, and to our small writers’ group.
Texas Company warehouse in Lafitte, Jefferson Parish, 1937.
Oil drilling support warehouse in Lafitte. Donald E. Fuellhart, Photographer, via State Library of Louisiana
Texas Company warehouse
Photo of a warehouse for the Texas Company. Other names you’ve heard are the Texas Oil Company and Texaco. This warehouse supported drilling operations in Jefferson Parish. This is down Bayou Barataria in Lafitte, Louisiana.
Oil and Gas in the 1930s
The oil and gas industry ruled Louisiana in the 1920s and 1930s. Oil exploration and production provided jobs in the region. This was significant during the Great Depression. The industry also created populist politicians such as Huey P. Long. What made Long such a successful politician was his ability to carve a path both the oil industry and the voters found acceptable.
Looking back a century later, so many of Louisiana’s problems, can be traced back to this relationship. Environmental issues in particular point back to oil/gas. While there were folks encouraging caution, most of Southeast Louisiana saw oil E&P as an acceptable way of life.
Like Metairie, Lafitte is an unincorporated section of Jefferson Parish. The technical term for such areas census-designated place. Lafitte has a concentration of people, but the lowest level of government is at the parish level. This is why members of the Jefferson Parish Council are informally regarded as the “mayors” of their respective districts. Other council members usually defer to the wishes of a district’s member on intra-district issues and projects.
So, while the general area of Lafitte is a CDP, there’s also the incorporated town of Jean Lafitte. The state approved the incorporation of Jean Lafitte in 1974. As of the 2010 census, Jean Lafitte boasted 1,903 residents. The town sits next to the main section of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, along Lake Salvador. While the park also includes the French Quarter in New Orleans, and the Chalmette National Battlefield (site of the Battle of New Orleans in 1814-15), this section is its bayou/wetlands component.
Southern Pacific Alco RS units passing through Avondale, LA, 1960. (Franck-Bertacci Studios photo courtesy THNOC)
Missiles in Avondale
a Southern Pacific Railroad train pulls missile parts through the railroad’s yard in Avondale, Louisiana, 7-Sep-1960. Several Alco road switcher engines pull flatcars containing the parts.
Google Earth view of the Avondale shipyard and rail yard facilities.
In 1938, Avondale Marine Ways opened on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. By 1941, the barge repair facility expanded, building ships for the war. So, the company survived the transition to peacetime, landing contracts to build vessels for the offshore energy industry. The owners sold the company to the Ogden Corporation in 1951. Ogden renamed the facility, Avondale Shipyards. The shipyard landed a number of Navy contracts throughout the Cold War. Therefore, the shipyard became a big part of the metro New Orleans economy in the 1950s/1960s.
Southern Pacific at Avondale
Containers carrying missile parts on “piggyback” flatcars. (Franck-Bertacci photo courtesy THNOC)
The railroad was an important part of the shipyard complex. So, Southern Pacific delivered raw materials to the riverfront construction facilities. The rail yard didn’t exist solely because of the shipyard, though. The Texas and New Orleans Railroad was a SP subsidiary. So, they initially operated a large yard in Algiers. After the Huey P. Long Bridge opened in 1931, the railroad moved upriver. Trains heading west through New Orleans crossed the Huey. Then they continued over T&NO tracks. This included the SP “name trains” such as the Sunset Limited.
SP inaugurated “piggyback” service in 1953. This cargo starts on truck trailers which were then loaded onto flatcars.
Southern Pacific fully absorbed T&NO in 1961.
SP “Piggyback” flatcars. (Frank-Bertacci Studios photo via THNOC)
It’s hard to discern the full story of these missile parts from the photos alone. Avondale Shipyards built a number of destroyers and destroyer escorts for the Navy. These ships suited the facility. Like many shipyards along the Mississippi River, this facility built ships in the river. They launched the completed ships sideways. The ships then steamed off, to the shipyard’s finishing docks, or to other locations.
Rocket and missile technology developed rapidly, post-WWII. The Space Race leveraged military missile technoloy. NASA’s first manned space program, Mercury is an example. They started with the Army’s Redstone missile.
So, it’s possible that this train delivered missile parts to the shipyard. Destroyers carry missiles. It’s also possible that these parts originated at, say the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. The trains heading west certainly crossed the river via the Huey, heading to Texas and points west.