Missiles traveling through Avondale
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.
Riverfront Arch Roofs – 1923-vintage streetcars operating off St. Charles Avenue
NORTA 459 on Riverfront, 2010 (Youtupedia photo)
Riverfront Arch Roofs
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority opened the Riverfront line in 1988. they used two of the 1923 arch roof streetcars and two Melbourne W-2 streetcars. The arch roofs left New Orleans in 1964, when NOPSI discontinued the Canal line.
NORTA 452, ex-Melbourne 626, on Riverfront in 1988 (Infrogmation photo)
The original line operated on a single track. NORTA upgraded the line in 1997 to double-track, wide-gauge operation. Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the “new” Riverfront line needed accessible streetcars. NORTA retired the 1923 streetcars and the Melbournes. They built the 400-series arch roofs. The 400s are similar to the 900-series, but with wheelchair lifts and modern propulsion.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the 1923 arch roofs ran on Riverfront and Canal. The red streetcars received devastating flood damage, but the track and overhead wiring came through the storm. Uptown, the green streetcars survived the storm, buttoned up at Carrollton Station. The wiring on St. Charles received extensive damage. So, NORTA operated the 900s on Riverfront and Canal.
The “Green” Streetcars
The arch roof style streetcar came to New Orleans in 1915. Perley A. Thomas created the design while working for the Southern Car Company. New Orleans Railway and Light ordered several, putting them into service on the St. Charles/Tulane belts. When NORwy&Lt re-organized as NOPSI, the new company ordered more arch roofs. By this time, Thomas operated his own streetcar company in High Point, North Carolina. He accepted the order, building the 800- and 900-series arch roofs for New Orleans.
NORTA 461 (ex-NOPSI 922) along the Riverfront line. Infrogmation Photo.
City leaders and NORTA knew the importance of showing the world that New Orleans didn’t die. The green streetcars running along Canal Street and in the French Quarter helped demonstrate that. The 400-series and 2000-series “red ladies” returned from their repairs. The St. Charles line’s power was repaired and upgraded. The green streetcars returned to their regular routes.
Amtrak New Orleans offers solid train travel options
Amtrak New Orleans
Winter Getaways! The more things change, the more they remain the same. College students wanting to get away during their break is one of those. This 1996 ad in the Loyola Maroon tempts students to get warm, or perhaps get cold and go skiing.
Students at colleges and universities in New Orleans have a lot of options when it comes to spring break. It’s easy to hop in a car and go to Florida, or maybe do some hiking and camping in the Smokey Mountains. However, going beyond that gets tough. While there are a lot of other destinations. auto travel bites into actual time at the destination.
Take the Train!
Amtrak offers travel rates lower than flying. Taking the train for spring break is also a challenge. Flying gets you where you want to go within hours. It takes a day and a half, for example, to get to Chicago from New Orleans. Not that students choose that route in February/March. Worse yet, travel on the Sunset Limited to Los Angeles takes two and a half days!
The strategy: make the train trip part of the vacation. When you’ve never been west of the Mississippi, travel through Louisiana, Texas, and points west is interesting. Even the single-day run to Atlanta provides wonderful Southern scenery. While 1996 airports weren’t the security circus of present-day air travel, getting to the airport was still a struggle.
Life on the train
Pack a bag in your Loyola/Tulane/Dillard/Xavier dorm. Get on the train. Bring some books. No internet in 1996? Go with a friend you can talk to. So, you’re off to Atlanta at 7am, arriving in the evening. Lots to do in the largest city in the South.
Heading west? Lunch on the way to Houston. Get off there, enjoy the most cosmopolitan city in Texas. Keep going? Dinner as Texas rolls by. So, spend a little more money, get a sleeper. Relax in privacy!
2-8-0 Steam Locomotives operated regularly in Gentilly
Southern Ry (NO&NE) 2-8-0 near Gentilly Blvd (between NE Tower and Seabrook) New Orleans, Frank C. Phillips Photo
2-8-0 Steam Locomotives
We mentioned the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad (NO&NE) last week, in our discussion of Homer Plessy’s ticket to Covington. Plessy was arrested at Press Street Station. That station was the terminal for the NONE in the 1890s. Southern Railway acquired NO&NE in 1916. Southern Railway moved NO&NE’s passenger service to Terminal Station on Canal Street. Freight service operated from NO&NE’s Gentilly Yard. The way out of town for the Southern system was their five-mile bridge across Lake Pontchartrain. So, passenger trains came out via the Lafitte Corridor, then merged onto the Back Belt. Freight trains came up Peoples Avenue from the yard, then to the back belt. The trains traveled north, alongside Peoples Avenue. The trains crossed the Industrial Canal at Seabrook. From there, they headed out of town.
Gentilly Blvd. and trains
The Back Belt more-or-less follows Gentilly Blvd. While train tracks run as much as possible in straight lines, streets tend to twist and turn. Because Gentilly Blvd intersects the train tracks several times, the railroad and the city built several underpasses. Trains stayed at the same level, going straight. Automobiles turned, curved, and dipped under the tracks.
Tony Howe, admin of the Louisiana Railroad History group on Faceback captioned this Frank C. Phillips photo:
Southern Ry (NO&NE) 2-8-0 near Gentilly Blvd (between NE Tower and Seabrook) New Orleans, Frank C. Phillips Photo
Others in the group (which is highly recommended for railfans and rail historians) added details. The houses to the left place the photo in Gentilly Terrace. The train heads south, towards either the Back Belt or the yard. The photographer stands just south of the underpass at Gentilly Blvd. The WPA/city/railroad built that underpass in 1940.
Baldwin Locomotive Works introduced the Consolidation 2-8-0 locos in 1883. So, this type of engine was a regular workhorse by the late 1940s. NO&NE owned a number of Consolidations. Unfortunately, the number on this engine isn’t visible.
Homer Plessy bought a ticket to travel to Covington, LA, but never left New Orleans.
In 1892, the Comite des Citoyens (Citizens Committee), an organization of civil rights activists, wanted to challange the Separate Car Act, a bill passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 1890. Their initial attempt failed. Activist and Committee member Rodolphe Desdunes purchased a ticket to Montgomery, Alabama. The interstate aspect of the case invoked Federal law. So, that biig-footed the state law, and the case was dismissed.
New Orleans and Northeastern Station (used also by East Louisiana Railroad) in 1883 (Robinson Atlas)
The second attempt took place on June 7, 1892. Homer Plessy purchased a ticket to travel from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana. Plessy was a Creole of Color who could easily “pass” for white. The East Louisiana Railroad sold him a first class ticket. Plessy announced, ticket in hand that he was not white. The railroad held him for the police. The cops arrested Plessy. That led to the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision.
The Train Trip
New Orleans to Covington by train in the 1890s.
Plessy did not travel to Covington. Plessy never intended to travel to Covington. He went down to the train station at Press and Royal Streets in the Bywater. Plessy announced he was going to ride in the whites-only car. The Citizens Committee hired a private investigator to make sure the railroad arrested Plessy.
I came across a 1907 postcard of a train passing through Covington, Louisiana. It pulled into the station shortly after the photographer took the shot. So, the image had me wondering, where was Plessy’s train actually going?
East Louisiana Railroad
Poster for the East Louisiana Railroad.
This railroad company began as the Mandeville and Sulpher Springs Railroad. The East Louisiana Railroad ran from Pearl River to Mandeville. By 1982, East Louisiana offered passenger service from New Orleans to Covington. They used the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad’s (NONE) tracks to get to St. Tammany Parish. From there, their trains operated on their own tracks. While East Louisiana’s tracks were in St. Tammany, they paid for use rights in New Orleans. Their trains originated at the NONE station at Press and Royal Streets. They went up Press Street, then out to what is now New Orleans East. The tracks went around Lake Pontchartrain. They traveled over the Rigolets Pass, then curved around the lake. The Southern Railway took over the bridge across the lake in 1905.
Because the East Louisiana Railroad operated exclusively in Louisiana, there was no interstate commerce. The Citizens Committee planned out the scenari. So, Plessy’s arrest and the subsequent court decision formed the basis for the “Jim Crow” laws. Those laws dominated the Southern states for almost fifty years.
Southern Railway, now Norfolk Southern, maintains the #BackBelt railroad connection.
Plate girder bridges crossing the now-filled-in New Basin Canal, 1960.
The New Orleans and North Eastern (NONE) Railroad connected New Orleans with Meridian, Mississippi, in 1883. NONE operated from Terminal Station, located at Canal and Basin Streets, when that station opened in 1908. The Southern Railway system acquired NONE in 1916. Southern Railway, now Norfolk Southern, expanded their holdings and operations in New Orleans over the past hundred years.
The Back Belt
Pontchartrain Expressway meets the Back Belt, 1960
Norfolk Southern enters the metro New Orleans area from the East, on the Lake Pontchartrain Railroad Bridge. From there, NS trains travel on tracks following Florida Avenue, through Gentilly and Mid-City. NS also spins off the Back Belt connecting to the company’s Oliver Yard, between Press/St. Ferdinand Streets and Montegut Street. The Back Belt connects with CN tracks in Metairie. That route leads out of the city to the West.
The most-visible part of the NS connection is at the boundary between Mid-City and Lakeview, in New Orleans. The train tracks cross I-10 at this point.
Boats meet Trains
The New Basin Canal ran from Lake Pontchartrain to S. Rampart Street. Irish immigrants made up the bulk of the labor force that built the canal in the 1830s. The Southern Railway system needed to cross the New Basin Canal to get across the city. The railroad built a bridge across the canal just north of Metairie Cemetery (on the canal’s west bank) and Greenwood Cemetry (on the east bank). That bridge served the railroads until the city’s decision to close the canal in 1937. The city filled in the canal’s turning basin some of the canal, up to the intersection of Tulane and S. Carrollton Avenues. World War II delayed further work. After the war, the city filled in the rest of the waterway, from Tulane Avenue/Airline Highway, to the lake.
Waterway to Highway
Run-around track at the Pontchartrain Expressway, 1960
The city planned to build an expressway over what used to be the New Basin Canal. The idea was to provide commuters from Lakeview and Metairie with an easier route into downtown. That expressway would eventually link with a bridge over the Mississippi River.
Building an expressway required a re-design of the over-water bridge Southern Railway used over the New Basin Canal. In 1960, work began on demolishing the original bridge. They replaced that bridge with a wider underpass. The first step in constructing the underpass was to re-route the train tracks. They built a “run-around” track to bypass the bridge. Once the run-around became operational, they could demolish the bridge. The new underpass structure went up. The construction crews demolished the run-around, leaving what we see now, over I-10.
Lakeview in the 1950s
Metairie Road/City Park Avenue at the New Basin Canal, 1960
The construction photos show Lakeview before I-10 swallowed up the area. The filled-in canal area is empty. The Pontchartrain Expressway begins south of Metairie Road at this point. The entrance to the expressway stretched north after the completion of the railroad underpass.
All the while, Southern Railway ran across the city. After 1954, Southern passenger trains followed the Pontchartrain Expressway, turning north, then east, onto the Back Belt, to head out of town.