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.
Railroad Departures October 1913 to Mobile, New York, and Dallas.
Departures October 1913
Three ads in The Daily Picayune on October 21, 1913 entice New Orleanians to points East, North and West. The Louisville and Nashville (L&N) offers an excursion train to a conference in Mobile. Southern Railway promotes their daily service to New York City. Texas and Pacific wants New Orleans to go to the Dallas Fair. None of the trains were air-conditioned at this time. So, when the weather cooled in the Fall, New Orleans went on adventures.
$4.45 to Mobile
L&N Terminal, Canal Street, 1910
Those traveling to the “Account Southern Commercial Congress” in late October, 1913, could take an excursion train. L&N’s route out of New Orleans curves around Lake Pontchartrain, like US Highway 90. The trains crossed the river at the Rigolets Pass, then headed to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The railroad turned north at Mobile. L&N built their station at the end of Canal Street in 1902. So, it was still relatively new in 1913. Prior to the Canal Street station, L&N trains used the old Pontchartrain Railroad station at Elysian Fields and Chartres.
Short Route — Perfect Service
Traveling North? Southern Railway’s New York & New Orleans Limited offered service to Birmingham, Washington and New York. In 1925, Southern re-branded their NYC train the Crescent Limited. Other Southern trains traveled to Cincinnati. That route became the Queen and Crescent Limited in 1926. Southern’s trains operated from Press Street Station prior to 1908, and Terminal Station from 1908 until 1954.
“Greatest Annual Fair in All America”
For $18.35 round trip, New Orleans experienced a “liberal education” at the Dallas Fair. While boasting that the Fair was a “financial failure for years” might not sound like an appealing way to get folks up to Dallas, it served as a teaser. The Texas and Pacific Railroad served New Orleans and Central Louisiana, connecting the state with Dallas and points west.
All three railroads maintained ticket offices in the first-floor row of storefronts at the St. Charles Hotel, which stood in the 200 block of St. Charles Avenue.
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
Southern Railway Park stood just off from the tracks leading to Terminal Station.
Southern Railway Park
Franck Studios photos of Basin Street turning towards the lake in the late 1950s. The two parking tracks inside Southern Railway Park are visible on the left. Prior to 1954, railroad tracks leading out of Terminal Station at Canal and Basin Streets followed Basin, down to just before St. Louis Street. They turned lakebound at that point, heading into Mid-City. They connected with the “Back Belt” tracks, where trains turned east to cross the Industrial Canal and Lake Pontchartrain.
The New Orleans Terminal Company (NOTC) built a railroad passenger station on Canal Street in 1908. Southern Railway assumed control of the station when it acquired NOTC in 1916. Southern shifted their operations from Press Street Station in the Bywater to Faubourg Treme. Tracks ran along Basin from Canal Street to St. Louis. Additionally, Southern built a freight station, just before the tracks curved north. That station stood at 501 Basin, just out of the frame of these photos, on the left. A private concern purchased the freight building in the early 2000s, converting it into Basin Street Station, a visitors center and event venue.
After trains for Southern Railway (or Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio, the other railroad using Terminal Station) unloaded their passengers, they pulled off to a service yard. Engines pulled the train up past the Municipal Auditorium, then backed the cars into a side yard. Additionally, Southern trains carried “business cars” throughout the system. These cars looked like open-ended observation cars. They contained offices, bedrooms, and a kitchen. Railroad executives used these cars to travel the system.
When business cars came to New Orleans, the railroad parked them next to the passenger car service yard. Those tracks terminated in Southern Railway Park. The executives got a landscaped area where they could stretch their legs, or take a car to other parts of the city.
In 1954, the city consolidated passenger rail operations at Union Passenger Terminal, on Loyola Avenue. The city ordered the demolition of the five existing passenger stations. Southern Railway relocated the business car parking tracks to the location in this photo. They also moved several of the light fixtures like the one in this James H. Selzer photo from 1975.
Thanks to Mr. Maunsel White for sharing these photos on Facebook.
The Southern Railway Terminal on Basin Street serviced New Orleans for forty-six years.
Southern Railway Terminal
Franck Studios photo (via HNOC) of the Southern Railway Terminal, Canal and Basin Streets, downtown. This particular photo caught my eye because it’s a straight-on shot, rather than from an angle. The photographer stands in the Canal Street neutral ground. They shot the photo in-between streetcars. Krauss Department Store stands to the left. The Saenger Theater is visible to the right. Architect Daniel N. Burnham of Chicago, designer of the Flatiron building in New York, created this station. The New Orleans Terminal Company built it in 1908.
Not just Southern
While the electric sign at the top of the station’s arch proclaims Southern Railway, the Gulf, Mobile, and Northern (later Gulf, Mobile and Ohio) also operated here. The trains ran down Basin Street to St. Louis Street, where the tracks turned lakebound to head out of town. The Lafitte Corridor greenway runs the path of the old railroad tracks. The area remained abandoned for decades after passenger trains all moved over to Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola.
This Southern Rialway terminal photo contains interesting details to unpack. Two of the fleur-de-lis light poles that light up Canal Street to this day flank the station. Union Sheet Metal Company fabricated those poles for the city in 1930. The pole on the right has a sign promoting the Community Chest charity. Since Mayor Chep Morrison extensively used the light posts to promote seasonal causes and celebrations, this narrows the date down. While HNOC does not date the photo, it’s likely between 1950 and 1954.
Two men sit at small stands outside the Southern Railway terminal. One sits under an umbrella. I couldn’t read the words painted on either stand, so I put the question to the folks in Facebook’s “Ain’t There No More” group.. My original guess was the guy under the umbrella operated a food stand, and the other sold newspapers. Folks made out “ITEM” on the right-hand stand. That fits with the New Orleans Item newspaper. Longtime Times-Picayune photographer (and current director of the 1811 Kid Ory Historic House in Laplace) John McCusker says they’re both newsstands. Works for me!
Paul Oliver photo of Amtrak’s Panama Limited, 5-May-1974. This is train #58, heading northbound from New Orleans to Chicago. Here’s Mike Palmieri’s caption, from a Facebook group:
AMTK No. 58 – NEW ORLEANS AREA – 5 MAY 1974 – Paul Oliver image
Amtrak train No. 58 – the northbound PANAMA LIMITED – was highballing through EAST BRIGDE JUNCTION, probably doing the speed limit of 60, on its way out of the New Orleans area. The train consisted of Illinois Central E8A units 4028 (in Amtrak colors), 4023 and 4027 with 14 cars, including deadheading dome-sleepers 9212 and 9211. The rest of the train consisted of baggage car 1020, 6-6-4 sleepers 2153 *SILVER IRIS *and 2152 SILVER HYACINTH, dining car 8029, lounge car 3353 and seven coaches: 5459, 5248, 5266, 5267, 4843, 4402 and 5233. The 4028 was passing a slightly newer General Motors product, a 1967 Oldsmobile CUTLASS coupe.
Amtrak took over passenger rail operations three years prior to this photo, in 1971. The nationalization of passenger rail in the US meant a lot movement of equipment. The existing railroads turned over their passenger equipment to Amtrak. Therefore, the Panama Limited continued to operate Illinois Centeral (IC) equipment.
By 1974 Amtrak repainted much, but not all of their rolling stock. Three locomotives pull #58 here. An IC EMD E8A-B-A trio lead. The two A units sport Amtrak livery, but the B unit remains in IC colors. The two dome cars following the locos one wears Amtrak, the other appears to still be IC brown and orange.
This mash-up of colors and equipment continued throughout the 1970s. While the early years presented combinations of Amtrak and single railroad colors, trains became more diverse as equipment moved around the country. Eventually, Amtrak replaced “heritage” equipment with newer, modern cars. The last of the original, pre-1971 cars to roll were diner cars. Amtrak replaced these cars with newer diners in the 2010s.
Panama Limited to City of New Orleans
Amtrak branded the New Orleans-Chicago line, “Panama Limited,” retaining the name of IC’s flagship train. When Arlo Guthrie recorded his iconic version of “City of New Orleans,” the railroad changed this route’s name to IC’s second route. So, #58 and #59 now bear the name, City of New Orleans.