A back belt fire broke out on the Canal Boulevard underpass on Monday, 2-October-2023, around 6pm. NOFD documented the fire on Twitter. By Wednesday, 4-October, the damage to the tracks appears to be repaired.
I learned of the incident on Tuesday, when I went to my regular coffee shop, PJ’s, at 5555 Canal Boulevard. The coffee shop stands right next to the underpass. One of the baristas showed me video taken by the barista working Monday evening. Crazy!
The New Orleans Terminal Company (NOTC) constructed “Back Belt” in 1908. It got its name because it’s in the “back” of town relative to the “Public Belt” tracks which run along the river. Southern Railway acquired NOTC in 1916. Southern later merged to become present-day Norfolk-Southern Railroad. In 1939-1940, the Works Progress Administration built a series of underpasses along the Back Belt. The tracks have no grade crossings for its entire run through the city. So, the coffee shop offers a great vantage point for train-watching.
NOFD reported they do not know what caused the fire. Heat warped the track towards the eastern end of the underpass.
Amtrak Crescent #20, 3-Oct-2023
When Amtrak’s Crescent departed town on Tuesday morning, the train came out of the access track that runs along I-10 (between the highway and the cemeteries). When it approached the underpass, the train backed up, so it could cross over to the northern track on the Back Belt.
By Wednesday, the tracks appeared to be repaired as a westbound train pulled by Union Pacific engines moved across the underpass. An eastbound CSX train crossed at the same time.
Here’s this morning’s Crescent #20, crossing over the repaired tracks. Caption from YouTube:
Amtrak’s Crescent #20, ten minutes out of Union Passenger Terminal (NOL). AMTK 199, a P-42 Genesis, and AMTK 164, painted in “Phase IV Heritage” livery. Standard consist, two Genesis, 3 Viewliner coaches, 1 cafe, 2 sleepers, and a bag-dorm bringing up the rear. The train’s moving slower than normal out of concern for the rail replacements made on 3-Tues-2023 because of a track fire.
So, freight and passenger traffic appears to be back.
Photo of a relief map of the proposed Lake Vista Subdivision on the New Orleans Lakefront. Caption from the WPA record:
New Orleans, 1936: “The Lakefront Development, carried on by the WPA under Levee Board sponsorship, will look like this map-relief model when completed.” Shows man looking over a diorama of the Lake Vista neighborhood.
Lake Vista was the first residential development opened on land reclaimed from Lake Pontchartrain. The subdivision encompasses the area from Marconi Drive (west), Lakeshore Drive (north), Beauregard Avenue/Bayou St. John (east), and Allen Toussaint Boulevard (south). The US Coast Guard station stood at the bayou and the lake.
Eventually, land reclamation on the Lakefront spawned five subdivisions:
Lake Vista is sort-of towards the middle of this group, with its border along the bayou. The Orleans Levee Board developed Lake Vista first, mainly because the other sections were already in use. West Lakeshore became Lagarde Army Hospital. The US Navy built Naval Hospital New Orleans in East Lakeshore. Pontchartrain Beach occupied a significant portion of Lake Terrace at this time (the Milneburg location didn’t open until 1940).
Lake Terrace extended to the London Avenue Canal. The other side of the canal to Elysian Fields Avenue became Naval Air Station New Orleans. What would become Lake Oaks was home to Army barracks and other facilities. So, that left Lake Vista uncommitted.
The basic design of the neighborhood was spoke-and-hub.. The residential streets each started on one of the edges. They moved toward the parcel’s center. That center became the hub. One Street, Spanish Fort Boulevard, was planned as a two-lane street separated by a neutral ground. All the spoke streets converged on a circular road. Inside the circle was reserved for churches, schools, and a retail development. The main tenant of that middle section became St. Pius X Church and School (Catholic).
Times-Picayune, September 17, 1938
The Levee District invited New Orleans to inspect Lake Vista on its opening weekend, 17-18 September, 1938. They published a full-page ad with lots of information on the neighborhood. “15 minutes from the heart of the city. Come!” The ad touts the perks of buying in a brand new development: no survey fees, etc., since twenty years before opening, it was part of the lake.
Still there more
While Lake Vista has evolved over its 85-year lifetime, a number of homes built in the 1940s remain.
Private cars on Amtrak’s Crescent are a wonderful treat.
Springtime brings out the private railcars all across the country. With three Amtrak long-haul passenger routes converging on New Orleans, we see a wonderful variety of privately-owned heritage railcars. This weekend was no exception, as two private cars brought up the rear of the Crescent on 5-May and another the next day.
AMTK 161 in Phase I livery for the 50th Anniversary
In the lead are AMTK 161, in Phase I livery for the 50th Anniversary.This was the paint scheme used by the railroad after it consolidated the passenger equipment from the legacy railroads.
AMTK 71 rolled in between the two anniversary engines. It wears the current “standard” livery for the Genesis power, Phase V.
AMTK 130 follows engine 71. It wears Phase II livery for the 40th Anniversary celebration in 2011.
NYC and Georgia
Private Varnish NYC-3
At first, I thought the third engine was a deadhead, then the back of the train explained it. Two “private varnish” cars brought up the rear.
The New York Central Railroad built NYC-3 for Harold Sterling Vanderbilt. the Vanderbilts founded the railroad. The car was built in 1928. The car served Vanderbilt, and later as a “business car” for the NYC. A private charter company currently operates and maintains NYC-3.
Georgia 300, as it is called, is a classic looking heavyweight observation car from the golden era of rail travel that was built by the Pullman Standard Co. shops in 1930. Sporting a Packard blue with silver striping livery, the train car operated as a lounge car named the General Polk on the New Orleans-New York Crescent Limited (operated by the L&N, West Point Route, Southern, and Pennsylvania), and was later purchased by the Georgia Railroad and reconfigured to Office Car 300. The Georgia Railroad used the car in trips to venues like The Masters Tournament and the Kentucky Derby.It ran until its retirement in 1982 after being made redundant as surplus due to the merger between Georgia Railroad and Family Lines.
Ride the bus or streetcar to the game, come back to the French Quarter for fine dining.
Enjoying Sugar Bowl Dining
With fans from Baylor University and the University of Tennessee in town for the Sugar Bowl game on New Year’s Day, even the established, “old line” restaurants took out ads in the Times-Picayune.
Beakfast at Brenna’s, all day.
Brennan’s French Restaurant served “Breakfast At Brennan’s,” with Eggs Hussarde or Eggs St. Denis, all day long. They also recommended Lamb Chops Mirabeau, as well as the rest of a very popular menu of French cuisine. Brennan’s, Still There More at 417 Royal Street, across from the Louisiana Supreme Court building.
“the gourmet’s choice…The House of Antoine for 117 years…National polls have placed Antoine’s top on their list of fine restaurants of America and the world. Antoine’s Restaurant, 713 St. Louis Street in the French Quarter. Roy L. Alciatore, Proprieter.
Arnaud’s Restaurant in the French Quarter.
Germaine Cazenave Wells, Owner and Manager of Restaurant Arnaud’s, and daughter of Count Arnaud, the founder, welcomed Sugar Bowl visitors. “The Paris of the South,” Arnaud’s, still at 813 Bienville Street.
Commander’s Palace in the Garden District
“a command performance for generations, the toast of Kings and Queens of Mardi Gras, Commander’s Palace where each meal is a command performance–delicious french cuisine expertly prepared and graciously served.”
Since 1880, Commander’s Palace – “Dining in the Grand Manner,” Washington Avenue at Coliseum.
Lenfant’s, Poydras and S. Claiborne and Canal Blvd.
Lenfant’s operated two locations in 1956, 537 S. Claiborne and Poydras, and 5236 Canal Blvd. The Special Turkey New Year’s Dinner served to 4 P. M., a la carte after 4pm. “Plenty of Parking Space Available at Both Locations.” Lenfant’s, particularly the Canal Blvd. location, attracted locals not looking to mingle with football visitors.
T. Pittari’s, 31-December-1956
“The Famous T. Pittari’s – Directly on your route–to and from The Sugar Bowl Game” at 4200 So. Claiborne. Pittari’s aggressive marketing via downtown hotels attracted visitors. While they came for the lobster and other exotic dishes, locals went to Pittari’s for their popular Creole-Italian dishes.
Amtrak Crescent #20, 29-December-2022, departing New Orleans. AMTK 164, a GE P42-DC “Genesis” in the lead, with AMTK 514, a GE P32-8WH (commonly referred to as a “Dash-8”) behind. Crescent #20 departs Union Passenger Terminal (NOL) at 0915CST. It runs parallel to I-10, which was a navigation canal until 1949. The track continues trough Mid-City New Orleans, turning east when it reaches the Norfolk-Southern “Back Belt.” this connection is directly behind Greenwood Cemetery. Prior to the opening of UPT in 1954, Southern Railway operated the Crescent. That train operated from the L&N terminal at Canal Street and the river.
Once on the Back Belt, there are no grade crossings through the city. The train crosses Lake Pontchartrain on the NS “five-mile bridge” to its first stop in Slidell, LA. From Slidell, it’s off through Mississippi and Alabama to Atlanta, then on to DC, ending at New York’s Penn Station (NYP).
The Crescent operates “Viewliner” equipment, rather than the “Superliners” used on the City of New Orleans and Sunset Limited. The current consist is 3 coaches, 1 cafe car, 2 sleepers, and a bag-dorm. It’s used this consist since vaccinations for COVID-19 became wide spread. Prior to vaccinations, the route went down to 3-day-per-week operations with two coaches and a single sleeper. Amtrak discontinued dining car service on the Crescent prior to the pandemic.
Illustration of Amtrak Dash-8 locomotives in “Pepsi Can” livery by JakkrapholThailand93 on Deviant Art.
Amtrak replaced their EMD F40PH units with Dash-8s. GE delivered this locomotive to Amtrak in 1991. They wore the “Pepsi Can” livery for years.
AMTK 514 is based here at NOL. The NOL crew operate 514 as a switcher to stage the Crescent, City of New Orleans, and Sunset Limited. The Dash-8 steps in for a run to NYP when weather and scheduling messes up the Genesis count.
AMTK 164, a GE P42DC “Genesis” locomotive, pulling the Crescent #20, 29-December-2022. Edward Branley photo.
By the mid-1990s, Amtrak replaced the Dash-8s with GE P42DC “Genesis” locomotives like AMTK 164, shown here.
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.