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.
Transition Sleeper bringing up the rear of the City of New Orleans.
AMTK 39008, a “transition sleeper” car, running on train #59, the City of New Orleans.The car’s design includes end vestibules at different levels. The car connects with the car in front of it on the upper level. These are “Superliner II” cars manufactured by Bombardier in the 1990s. They operate on Amtrak routes outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC). So, two of the trains that originate in New Orleans, the City of New Orleans and the Sunset Limited, operate Superliners. The third train, the Crescent, operates Viewliner II single-level cars. The Crescent travels to New York (Penn Station). The Crescent enters Manhattan via a tunnel. So, it uses the single-level cars.
Transition Sleeper car, connected to a single-level baggage car on the Sunset Limited.
Superliner II Sleeper, with high-level vestibule.
Amtrak normally runs the transition sleeper cars on routes also using standard baggage cars. Long-haul routes like the Sunset Limited require more baggage space than what’s on the lower level of Coach cars. So, the railroad uses the single-level cars that can travel the NEC. To ensure access to baggage, staff can move through the train on the upper level. When they reach the end of the transition car, they return to the lower level and through the vestibule. Since the transition connection is on a sleeper, engine crews use its roomettes for rest and sleep.
Transition sleeper connected to “heritage” car on the Sunset Limited.
Prior to Amtrak, most passenger rail operators ran single-level equipment. When the national rail corporation took over in 1971, it inherited seventy-three “Hi-Level” cars from Santa Fe. Passengers loved these cars, with their all-window roofs. When Amtrak moved to replace the “heritage” equipment, it ordered 235 two-level cars, which became the “Superliner I” rolling stock. Those cars reached the fleet by the late 1970s. They ran on the Sunset Limited starting in 1981.
A decade later, Amtrak upgraded the Superliner I cars with a new generation of two-levels. While the first-gen Superliners were manufactured by Pullman-Standard, that company was out of business at that time. They sold the designs and patents for the Superliners to Bombardier. That company delivered 140 cars to Amtrak. That total included forty-seven transition sleepers. Unlike the standard sleepers, which included full both full bedrooms and roomettes, the transitions only have roomettes. There are sixteen roomettes per car. The railroad sells the roomettes closer to the upper level door to passengers.
Amtrak began the process of replacing the Superliners in 2022. They anticipate having new cars in place by 2032.
“Best and Fastest Service between Canal Street and Broadway.” That’s how the L&N advertised service on the Crescent Limited in the Times-Picayune, 5-January-1927. While the route started back in the 1890s, the name “Crescent Limited” was only two years old at the time of this ad. The Southern Railway system, which began in 1894, operated the route from New York to Atlanta. By 1906, the route became the New York and New Orleans Limited. By 1925, Southern re-branded the route.
PRR – Southern – L&N
While Southern owned the consist of the Crescent Limited, the railroad needed tracks of three systems to go the distance. The route originated in NYC on the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). At Washington, DC, the route used Southern tracks to Atlanta. At Atlanta, the Crescent shifted to the West Point Route to Montgomery. At Montgomery, it continued on L&N trackage down to Mobile, then to New Orleans.
After World War II, Southern shifted the route so it operated exclusively on their tracks.
Southern’s re-branding of the New York and New Orleans was more than just a name change. The route evolved into an All-Pullman affair, featuring “Deluxe accommodations; luxurious Pullman Cars of latest design–sections, drawing rooms, and compartments; extra large dressing rooms; excellent dining-car service; club car, observation car; valet-porter, and a ladies’ maid.” Naturally, “A reasonable extra fare is charged on this train.”
In later years, Southern added coach-car service to the Crescent, between New Orleans and Atlanta. This offered travelers a more-affordable option to get between the two cities.
L&N New Orleans Terminal
While the Crescent Limited operated a Southern consist, it departed and arrived at New Orleans via the L&N terminal at Canal Street and the river. All the other Southern trains used Terminal Station, at Canal and Basin Streets. This changed in 1954, when the city consolidated all passenger rail service at Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue.
For further information…
The ad mentions the City Ticket Office, located at 229 St. Charles Street. Most of the railroads maintained ticket offices on the ground floor of the St. Charles Hotel.
Even though it’s no longer “limited,” Amtrak continues operation of the Crescent, daily from Union Passenger Terminal (UPT) to New York Penn Station (NYP).
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.