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.
This is a 2010 photo of the current incarnation of the City Park railroad, courtesy Mid-City Messenger. A miniature railroad first operated in New Orleans City Park in the 1890s. After a couple of false starts, the park’s railroad has run since 1905, pausing only for war (fuel rationing). Trains circle the lower section of the park, starting and ending at the back of Storyland/Carousel Gardens. The train goes east, towards Marconi Drive, then follows Marconi south, to City Park Avenue, it turns west, following the lower edge of the park, turning just before the Wisner/City Park Avenue/N. Carrollton intersection. It curves north, passing the New Orleans Museum of Art, then the Sculpture Garden and Casino, returning to its station by the rides.
The first miniature railroad in the park opened in 1895. The park chose not to renew the contract for the train, saying maintenance of the track cost more than fares brought in. A second attempt, a couple of years later, yielded similar results. A contractor proposed resuming the ride in 1905. The park board of commissioners approved the plan. The railroad became a success. The railroad’s route initially consisted of about 1500 feet of track, which later expanded to 2000 feet.
The train took a temporary hiatus for a year in World War I, and closed completely during the Second World War. While the fuel rationing restrictions ended after the war, the route fell into disrepair. The park re-vamped the railroad in 1949. They laid new rail for the 2000-foot route, using crossties provided by American Creosote Works company, on Dublin Street, Uptown. All was done according to prototype railroad specifications.
The park ordered a train from the Miniature Train and Railway Company of Elmhurst, Illinois. They delivered a faithful replica of a General Motors F3 diesel locomotive and six passenger cars. That train ran on the miniature railroad into the 1970s. The current train is less to prototype, and built for a bit more comfort.
Union Passenger Terminal
When Mayor Chep Morrison completed his plans to operate all passenger trains in and out of New Orleans from a single terminal, then-President of the City Park Railroad, Harry J. Batt, Jr., took out an ad in the Times-Picayune on May 1, 1954. Batt sent Mr. William G. Zetzmann, the Chairman of the New Orleans Terminal Board (the body that built Union Passenger Terminal) his regrets that his mainiature ailroad would not be consolidating operations at UPT. Batt’s note was good-natured:
Dear Mr. Zetzmann,
It is with sincere regret that we must have the unique distinction of being the only 48-passenger train that will not enter and leave your wonderful new station. I contratulate you on this new building, but it is of of necessity that we maintain our present station.
Narrow gauge rail equipment and other factors over which we have no control bring about this condition.
I believe, too, that the kiddies would much prefer the present surroundings with the giant oaks overhead, the blooming flowers, and the other environments of nature that give childhood its greatest urge for happiness.
Harry J. Batt, Jr.
Presiednt, City Park Railroad
While this is a cute and up-beat note, it also served as a poke at Mayor Morrison, who played hardball with the railroads for ten years to get UPT.
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.
Tulane Carrollton Maison Blanche – The first store away from Canal Street.
Tulane Carrollton Maison Blanche
Two photos of the corner of Tulane and S. Carrollton, one prior to the opening of Maison Blanche Carrollton and the other as the store’s life was winding down. The strip shopping center at this corner dates back before World War II. After the war, it becomes Tulane Carrollton Maison Blanche, as the department store expanded past 901 Canal Street. As the chain grew, the original Carrollton store moved to up Airline Highway. That store later re-located to Clearview Mall, where it remained until Dillard’s acquired the chain.
Tulane and Carrollton before MB
The earlier photo here shows the strip center with an A&P grocery store. While this photo, from Franck Studios (via HNOC), is undated, the A&P puts it between the construction of the center in 1940 and the closure of the grocery in 1946. Mid City Lanes opened in 1941. The bowling alley operated on the second floor of the lake side of the center. The ground floor contained a Morgan and Lindsey “dime store.” The ground floor, lake side appears to be unoccupied.
Even though the venerable drugstore chain Katz and Besthoff continues to own the hearts of locals, Walgreens opened its first store in the city in 1938. From that first location at 900 Canal Street, the chain branched out into other neighborhoods. Walgreens opened their Mid-City store here at Tulane Carrollton Maison Blanche, in 1941.
Regal Beer leased the roof space above the Walgreens. Their sign, which included a clock, towers over the intersection. The city’s minor-league baseball team, the Pelicans, played in their ballpark across the street. The St. Charles/Tulane Belt streetcar lines turned here, heading up and down Tulane Avenue. Behind the strip center, to the west, Tulane Avenue morphed into Airline Highway (US 61). Airline Highway connected New Orleans with Baton Rouge and other points west.
Maison Blanche on the corner
After World War II, various retail chains in the city were free to implement expansion plans long held in check because of the war. Maison Blanche opened two “suburban” stores in 1947, in Gentilly and here in Mid-City. The store raised the height of the roof on the the A&P section of the strip. They offered shoppers the ground floor as retail space and stored stock on the new second floor.
This newer photo dates to the 1960s. While the changes to the corner around the strip center aren’t visible, they were significant. Pelican Park had been demolished. In its place rose the Fountainbleau Motor Hotel. Streetcar service on the Tulane line ended in 1951. The city ripped up the streetcar tracks and operated buses. With the New Canal now filled in, the Pontchartrain Expressway rose over the corner, leading auto traffic into town and to the Mississippi River Bridge.
MB Carrollton morphed into a “Budget Store” with the opening of MB Airline. The store sold discontinued items, markdowns, returns, etc., at its “Budget Annex,” located behind the main store, at Iberville and Dauphine Streets. When Airline opened, MB expanded its “budget” offerings to Carrollton. In Gentilly, they converted their first store in that neighborhood to a budget location, when the primary store moved to Gentilly Woods Shooping Center.
Early morning outbound and inbound on the Canal Street Line, 2-April-2022. The first streetcar, outbound, is actually the second car out of the barn. The Canal line cars leave the barn at Canal and S. White Streets, turn lakebound, and travel to the Cemeteries terminal. The first streetcar of the morning already did this when I pulled up at Blue Dot Donuts. That car is the second one in the video. The operator pulled out, headed to Cemeteries, and now is doing a full inbound run. You can see the “01” on the right-side rollboard on this second car, 2023. That indicates it was the first one on the line this morning.
Canal line operations
NORTA 2023, inbound on Canal Street, 2-April-2022
There’s a couple of reasons NORTA operates Canal in this mode. First, it’s easier to come out of the barn and make a simple right turn. The car barn is behind the A. Phillip Randolph bus facility, the big building you see on Canal Street. This used to be the location of the original New Orleans City Railroad barn. That building, parts of which were from the 1860s, was demolished in the 90s. When streetcars returned in 2004, NORTA built a new streetcar barn. It’s big enough to hold all the red and green streetcars. So, Carrollton Station, up on Willow Street, is just a maintenance facility. The 2000-series Von Dullen streetcars always operated from this barn. The Rail Department performs minor repairs on the cars on Canal. The streetcars return Uptown for major repairs, maintenance, painting, etc.
The second reason the streetcars go up to Cemeteries first is that it gives the operator a chance to shake the car down before they go to work. If there’s a problem, they can turn around and go back to the barn.
NORTA operates a limited schedule this weekend, because of the NCAA Final Four.
North Carrollton Streetcars have operated only since 2005.
North Carrollton Streetcars
NORTA 2012, operating on the “Carrollton Spur” of the Canal Street line, 23-December-2021. One in three (or four, depending on how busy the line is) cars running on Canal spin off at Carrollton Avenue, traveling the length of North Carrollton Avenue, out to City Park. NORTA built the 2000-series “Von Dullen” streetcars in 2003/2004, for the return of streetcar operation on Canal. Like the green, 1923-vintage arch roof cars running on St. Charles Avenue, the Von Dullens get holiday decorations for Yuletide.
The Carrollton Spur
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority planned for streetcars back on Canal Street starting in the late 1990s. They pitched electric street rail operation to the Federal Transportation Authority at a time when local governments only had to put up 20% of the cost. So, once the city assembled a financial package, the Feds got on board. Additionally, they pitched an extension of the traditional Canal route, a “spur” going down Carrollton Avenue. This spur connects Canal Street with City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
The original plan was to get the almost-five miles of Canal Street track done and settled, then NORTA would turn its attention to the spur in a year or two. When George W. Bush became POTUS in 2001, the FTA dramatically cut back their contribution to street rail projects. Despite securing funding for the Canal project, NORTA became concerned. They moved up the plan to run North Carrollton Streetcars. So, construction began on the spur as the main line approached completion.
As much as construction-related street closures interrupted business along N. Carrollton, most owners saw the streetcars as a good thing in the long-term. While Hurricane Katrina slammed down economic growth immediately, the streetcars eventually boosted the neighborhood.
First time streetcars
Back in the days when New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) operated transit in the city, they never ran North Carrollton Streetcars. This is because of the Southern Railway’s “Bernadotte Yard.” The railroad built an extensive rail yard in Mid-City New Orleans. It ran from Canal Boulevard and Bernadotte Street, down St. Louis Street, crossing N. Carrollton, up to Dr. Norman C. Francis Parkway. So, when the rail yard reached N. Carrollton, six railroad tracks crossed the street.
Now, that many railroad tracks was bad enough for automobile and truck traffic. Those tracks made it impossible for street rail to run down the street, crossing the tracks. So, NOPSI never ran streetcars on that side of Canal Street. They operated the “Carrollton” bus line, from Elysian Fields and Gentilly Road, to DeSaix Street, to Wisner, N. Carrollton, all the way to S. Carrollton and Claiborne Avenues, Uptown.
As you can see from the video, the Carrollton Spur operates in the street, not the neutral ground. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the entire Canal line used the old arch-roof cars, as the Von Dullens underwent repairs.