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
The Canal Lakeshore bus took over for the West End line.
Canal Lakeshore bus
Photo of Canal Street, showing Flxible buses operating on the various “Canal Street” lines, after the conversion of the Canal line to buses in 1964. NOPSI cut back streetcar operations on Canal Street to a single block, on what was the inbound outside track. Arch roof streetcars on the St. Charles line, like the one in the photo. I can’t make out which of the 35 remaining 1923-vintage streetcars makes the turn on the left side. If you can sort it out, let me know. The photographer stands in the “Canal Street Zone,” just on the river side of St. Charles Avenue.
Post-streetcar Canal buses
The official name for the line NOPSI 314 rolls on in this photo is, “Canal – Lakeshore via Pontchartrain Boulevard.” Here’s the route.
Canal Street and the river
“Canal Street Zone” lakebound to Claiborne Avenue
Merge into auto lanes at Claiborne, continue outbound to City Park Avenue
Left turn at City Park Avenue
Right Turn at West End Blvd.
Left turn under the Pontchartrain Expressway (later I-10) overpass at Metairie Road.
Right turn onto Pontchartrain Boulevard
Continue outbound on Pontchartrain Boulevard
Right-turn on Fleur-de-lis Avenue (prior to I-10)
Curve around on Pontchartrain Blvd, go under I-10, continue to Fleur-de-Lis. Left turn onto Fleur-de-Lis. (after I-10)
Lakebound on Fleur-de-Lis to Veterans
Right on Veterans to West End Blvd.
Left on West End to Robert E. Lee Blvd. (Now Allen Toussant Blvd.)
Right on Toussaint to Canal Blvd.
Left on Canal Blvd to bus terminal at the lake.
Depart Canal Blvd terminal, riverbound.
Right turn on Toussaint to Pontchartrain Blvd.
Pontchartrain Blvd to Veterans, right turn on Veterans
Left turn on Fleur-de-Lis
Fleur-de-Lis back to Pontchartrain Blvd.
Pontchartrain Blvd to City Park Avenue
Left on City Park Avenue, the right onto Canal Street
Canal Street, riverbound to the river.
This route, was one of the main killers of the Canal streetcars. Air-conditioning all the way into town. No change from West End to the streetcar at City Park Avenue.
Canal buses in the 1970s
By the time I rode the Canal buses in the 1970s, on my way to and from Brother Martin, I could hop on any of the three Canal lines, to get to City Park Avenue. Canal Cemeteries ended at City Park Avenue. Canal-Lake Vista and Canal-Lakeshore split there, but all I needed was to get to the outbound Veterans bus.
1964 Transit Improvement Program ended the Canal streetcar line.
1964 Transit Improvement
Flyer updating riders on the 1964 Transit Improvement Program. New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) planned the removal of streetcars from the Canal Street line for May 31, 1964. While advocacy groups organized in late 1963/early 1964 to oppose the program, it was too little, too late. The plans for this removal began in late 1959.
This flyer emphasizes the advantages of switching Canal to bus service. NOPSI rolled out new buses as part of this “improvement.” Those Flixible company buses were air-conditioned. Riders in Lakeview and Lakeshore could get on the bus close to the house and ride all the way into the CBD.
This flyer promotes the Phase 2 changes. In Phase 1 of 1964 Transit Improvement, the city cut back the width of the Canal Street neutral ground. This allowed for three traffic lanes on either side of the street. When streetcars returned to Canal Street in 2004, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA, successor to NOPSI’s transit operations) built a single-track terminal at Canal Street and City Park Avenue. There was no space to re-create the two-track end of the line. So, at the time, New Orleanians approved these changes. Preservationists were caught off guard.
NOPSI immediately cut down the electric overhead wires on 31-May-1964, as part of Phase 2 of 1964 Transit Improvement. The city ripped up the streetcar tracks within weeks of the switch to buses. Additionally, the air-conditioning started on 31-May.
NOPSI expanded the “suburban” bus lines. They extended buses going to West End and Lakeview into downtown. Streetcars on the Canal line ended their runs at City Park Avenue. So, a rider living, say, off Fleur-de-Lis Avenue walked to Pontchartrain Blvd. They caught the bus to City Park Avenue, transferring there to the streetcar. While that doesn’t sound like a big deal, NOPSI discovered an opportunity. The rider starts on a bus with a/c, but switches to a hot, humid streetcar. If it’s raining, well, you get the idea.
Additionally, NOPSI offered an enhanced service, the “express” lines. Express 80 followed the Canal-Lake Vista (via Canal Boulevard) route. For an extra nickel, riders boarded Express 80 rather than the regular line. When the express bus reached City Park Avenue, Express 80 made no stops until Claiborne Avenue. Same for Express 81, which followed the Canal-Lakeshore via Pontchartrain Boulevard line. So that rider could not only stay on the bus from home, they got to the office that much quicker.
Downtown workers relied upon public transit so much more in 1964. When something is part of your day-to-day routine, improvements that enhance your experience are easy to sell. Preserving forty-year old streetcars didn’t seem like a big deal compared to not sweating through your clothes by the time you arrived at work.
Thanks to Aaron Handy, III, for this image of the flyer!
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.
Drawings from Historic American Building Survey LA-1235, Pumping Station 6, Orpheum and Hyacinth Streets. This pumping station spans the 17th Street Canal, just north of Metairie Road. Built in 1899, it’s the oldest station in service today. Wood-screw pumps designed by A. Baldwin Wood replaced the original pumps in the early 1900s.
The 17th Street Canal
The 17th Street Canal separates Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, from just south of Metairie Road to Lake Pontchartrain. The city changed the name of 17th Street to Palmetto Street in 1894. While the street changed, the name of the canal stuck.
The 17th Street Canal connected several Orleans Parish drainage canals to Lake Pontchartrain. Pumping Station 6 sits just north of Metairie Road because the land beyond the station was essentially undeveloped. Canals in Uptown and Uptown-backatown drained into 17th Street. Water accumulated in the station’s intake basin. The pumps pushed water further along the canal, out to the lake.
Evolution over time
While this design made sense in 1899, growth on both sides of the 17th Street Canal presented complications. Pumping Station 6 kept the water in the canal flowing, but it wasn’t able to lower water levels north towards the lake. Additionally, residents of Bucktown on the Jefferson Parish Side of the canal resisted changes at the lake end. A small fishing community developed along the canal. Those fishermen provided seafood to restaurants and shops in Bucktown and West End. Construction of a new pumping station would close access to the lake from the canal.
So, by 2005, the 1899 design failed to properly defend neighborhoods north of Pumping Station 6 from flooding. Water levels in the canal rose. The US Army Corps of Engineers built higher levees. Since there was insufficient easements to further raise the levee height, USACE build floodwalls. When Hurricane Katrina forced water from the lake into the canal, the floodwall gave way, drowning most of Lakeview and a significant portion of Mid-City.
The Historic American Building Survey series provides a valuable service. There are a number of HABS sets available for buildings and other structures in and around New Orleans.