Follow-up to yesterday’s post featuring an Amtrak Anniversary Locomotive.
Amtrak Anniversary Locomotive
Yesterday’s post featured the Amtrak Crescent #20, northbound to New York City. On Monday, I went over to where the Back Belt crosses Marconi Boulevard, rather than staying close to the coffee shop on Canal Boulevard. The two locomotives pulling the train were AMTK 75 and AMTK 161. While 75 sports the standard livery for GE P42DC “Genesis” locomotives, 161 wears an “anniversary” paint scheme. AMTK 161’s livery matches the Phase 1 scheme used from 1972 to 1974. The railroad added a gold “50” on the side.
AMTK 161 left on Monday, then turned around on Wednesday. On Thursday, the locomotive led #20 out of New Orleans.
Amtrak’s first livery phase is an iconic design of the 1970s that was first revived on P42 #156 a decade ago for our 40th Anniversary. It was an instant fan favorite and gained a big following. The 156 is no longer in service, so we had to bring this retro classic back for the big 5-0 …but we’re keeping our leisure suits in the attic.
Locos painted in Phase 1 are incredibly popular among model railroaders of all scales. The original locos sporting this livery were EMD “E” and “F” units. Amtrak inherited these from the legacy carriers. While they operated in their original colors in 1971, Amtrak painted them with Phase 1 the second year of operation.
AMTK 161 bears the modern Amtrak logo, just above the gold “50.”
Additionally, Amtrak painted several other locomotives to celebrate 50. AMTK 46 bears the current livery, with the words “Connecting America for 50 Years,” with the “50” in gold. This loco has passed through New Orleans, pulling the Crescent. P42 #100, with its “Midnight Blue” paint, hasn’t made it down here yet. Neither have #108, in Phase VI (which never made it to P42s otherwise), and #160, in the “Phase III Dash-8” scheme. Hopefully we’ll catch these on one of the three Amtrak trains out of NOL.
The Amtrak Crescent #20 celebrates the railroad’s 50th!
Amtrak Crescent #20 celebrates
Amtrak Crescent #20, about 20 minutes after departing Union Passenger Terminal, New Orleans (NOL). P42DCs AMTK 75 and 161 pull a consist of 3 coaches, 1 cafe’ car, 2 sleepers, and 2 bag-dorms (one is a deadhead).
AMTK 75 is in the standard Genesis livery. The railroad re-painted AMTK 161 in “Phase 1” livery, with a “50” badge marking 2021 as Amtrak’s 50th anniversary year. Amtrak ran the “Phase 1” livery from 1972 to 1974. At this time, the railroad continued use of passenger rail equipment from other operators.
The Amtrak Crescent continues over a century of service from New Orleans to New York City. Southern Railway (now Norfolk Southern, due to mergers) operated the route as the New York & New Orleans Limited in 1906. By 1925, they changed the name of the route to the Crescent Limited. Amtrak named the train simply, the Crescent. It’s not a “limited” route, as it stops in a number of small towns along the way.
The northbound train is #20, the southbound, #19. The train travels from NOL to New York Penn Station (NYP). The full trip takes about a day and a half, but riding the Crescent to Atlanta makes for a fun one-day ride.
Crescent in New Orleans
My usual haunt for taking train pictures is the PJ’s Coffee Shop at 5555 Canal Boulevard, in New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood. The coffee shop is right next to the Norfolk Southern “Back Belt” tracks. These two tracks run through all of New Orleans, from the parish line in the West to Lake Pontchartrain and the “five mile bridge” without grade crossings. Streets use underpasses or overpasses to cross the tracks. The original route of the Crescent Limited left New Orleans via Louisville and Nashville tracks. Since 1954, the train arrives/departs from Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue. Additionally, the City of New Orleans and the Sunset Limited arrive/depart from NOL.
So, usually I’m lazy and just shoot the trains crossing the overpass. This particular morning, I drove over to Marconi Blvd. As you can see there’s a grassy area as the Back Belt approaches the outfall canal and pumping station.
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.