Siemens Chargers on the City of New Orleans, departing NOL.
AMTK 300, a Siemens Charger, and AMTK 126, a GE Genesis, pull the City of New Orleans
Siemens Chargers at work
ALC-42, Siemens Chargers, operate now on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans route. AMTK 300 and AMTK126 pull the City out of Union Passenger Terminal, New Orleans, 19-October-2022. The blue-liveried Charger has the lead. While the City usually operates with a single engine, AMTK 126, an older General Electric P42DC “Genesis” engine, deadheads on the northern route. Illinois Central operated the City of New Orleans from 1947 to 1971. IC’s primary train from Chicago to New Orleans was the all-sleeper, Panama Limited. So, they added the City as a lower-cost alternative. Amtrak took the route over in 1971.
The two engines pull seven Superliner cars: 2 sleepers, 1 lounge car, and 4 coaches. The Superliners are double-decker passenger cars. Amtrak uses them outside the Northeast Corridor. Trains going to the NEC use single-level “Viewliner” equipment. While the City operated with a diner car prior to the pandemic, it continues to only offer snack bar service in the lounge car. Passengers order from the snack bar via the Amtrak phone app. They pick up their food and return to their seat or compartment.
Additionally, a Viewliner (single-level) car brings up the rear of #58 here. “American View” operates as an “inspection car.” This train pulls it up the former Illinois Central (now Canadian National) route to Chicago. More on American View in an upcoming post.
Amtrak’s City of New Orleans #59 19-October-2022, fifteen minutes from arrival at Union Passenger Terminal, New Orleans (NOL). The train, pulled by Siemens Charger AMTK 312, approaches Central Avenue in Jefferson, Louisiana, with one sleeper, one lounge, and five coaches, all Superliners. This is the southbound train. It departed Chicago the day before. The two trains, 58 and 59, meet each other just outside of town. When things run on schedule, it’s easy to wait a bit after 58 to catch 59.
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.
The Louisville and Nashville operated the Humming Bird train.
The Humming Bird
“The Humming Bird crossing Biloxi Bay – Louisville and Nashville R. R.” – Linen postcard printed in the late 1940s. L&N operated the Humming Bird (the two-word name is correct) between Cincinnati and New Orleans, from 1947 to 1969. While the route originally ran as a no-frills train, L&N added Pullman sleepers by 1953.
Like the other L&N passenger trains, the train operated out of the railroad’s terminal at the end of Canal Street (where the Aquarium of the Americas stands now). They moved to Union Passenger Terminal in 1954, along with all the other railroads.
Blue Humming Bird
The train’s cars originally had a stainless-steel sheathing. After a few years, the railroad removed the stainless because of corrosion issues underneath it. They then painted the cars blue. L&N re-shot the stainless-steel version of the postcard, updating it for the blue cars. These postcards were available on the train for passengers.
When it first rolled in 1947, the train consisted of 7 cars: five coaches, a tavern-lounge car, and a diner. American Car Foundry delivered 48 cars to L&N. The ran two sets of seven on the Humming Bird. Additionally, cars from that ACF order ran on the Georgian.
While the route’s popularity was in its speed and simplicity, L&N expanded the consist in 1953. They added sleepers, “6-6-4” cars from Pullman. The cars contained six open births (“sections”), six “roomettes,” and four double bedrooms. The sections were open areas. You had your bed and that was that. The roomettes were walled rooms containing one bed. Section and roomette passengers used communal toilets and sinks. Bedrooms included en suite toilet and sink.
New Orleans Stations
Humming Bird departing the L&N terminal on Canal Street, 1947
Humming Bird operated in and out of the L&N terminal from 1947 to 1954. Operations moved to Union Passenger Terminal in 1954. The city demolished the Canal Street terminal after UPT opened. This photo shows the Humming Bird departing the Canal Street terminal.
End of an era
L&N discontinued the train in 1969, saying it was no longer profitable. This was two years before the creation of the national passenger rail corporation, AMTRAK.
Bywater streetcar complications involve the Norfolk Southern Railroad.
NOPSI 1005, ca. 1935. Franck Studios via HNOC
St. Claude Line Bywater streetcars
NOPSI 1005, running on the St. Claude Avenue line, approximately 1935 (Franck Studios photo via HNOC). The car is heading outbound from N. Rampart Street. The 1000-series were the pinnacle of engineering development for the arch roof streetcars. The 1000s kept the original Perley A. Thomas design, with additions under the carriage. While the 400, 800, and 900s operated with two motors, the 1000s had four, one for each set of wheels.
Railroad versus Streetcar
Norfolk Southern train crossing the Industrial Canal, 13-Dec-2019, via Commons user Bl20gh114
St. Claude Avenue and Press Street, in the Upper Ninth Ward, is one of the few locations where streetcars and railroad equipment meet at grade. While the railroads own the Riverfront, the streetcar line operates in parallel to the New Orleans Public Belt RR tracks. The “Back Belt,” originally constructed for the NO&NE and Frisco by the New Orleans Terminal Company, includes a number of automobile underpasses. Once the Back Belt hits Orleans Parish, there are no grade crossings until Slidell.
After the consolidation of passenger rail into Union Passenger Terminal, those trains operated away from automobiles. The tracks run more-or-less parallel to the Pontchartrain Expressway. They merge into the Back Belt just past Greenwood Cemetery.
NOPSI 1371, a trackless trolley, inbound over the Industrial Canal at St. Claude Avenue, approaching Press Street, ca. 1950. City photo.
So, the most significant point of contention between railroad and streetcar was St. Claude and Press. NO&NE/Southern connected to the Public Belt from their Gentilly yard via tracks at Press Street. NOPSI streetcars crossed the train tracks there with few problems for decades. The overhead catenary presented no issues for the railroad. This continued after NOPSI discontinued the 1000-series streetcars in 1949. They scrapped those beauties, replacing them with trackless trolleys. The electric buses received power through the catenary, like the streetcars. They ran across Press, across the Industrial Canal, all the way down to the sugar refinery.NOPSI converted St. Claude from trackless trolleys to diesel buses in 1964. They cut down the overhead wires.
TTGX “tri-level” auto carrier, on the Norfolk Southern Back Belt, 22-Sep-2022.
While streetcars never left New Orleans, NOPSI reduced operations down to the St. Charles line in 1964. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority expanded streetcar service, introducing the Riverfront line in 1988. The success of Riverfront led to returning streetcars to the Canal line in 2004. Economic stimulus money from the federal government offered an opportunity to further expand streetcars in 2010. NORTA constructed a partial return of the St. Claude line. The line operates from Canal Street, along N. Rampart, then St. Claude, to Elysian Fields.
The line stops at Elysian Fields because NORTA and Norfolk Southern can’t come to terms on running the overhead wires over Press and St. Claude. Since the overhead departed almost sixty years ago, it’s on NORTA to change the status quo. The railroad argues that modern rolling stock, such as tri-level auto carriers, are too high for streetcar wires. NORTA disputes this, and they’re right. Still, Norfolk Southern continues to oppose restoring a grade crossing at this intersection.
Railroad enticements in 1924 included Asheville, NC and Cincinnati.
A few ads from the Times-Picayune, 13-August-1924. These railroad enticements appealed to New Orleanians wrestling with the dog days of summer. The Louisville and Nashville advertised sleeper service to Asheville, NC, and the Southern Railway System ran trains to Cincinnati. The L&N trains departed New Orleans from their depot at Canal Street by the river. Southern Railway trains operated from Terminal Station at Canal and Basin Streets. Both railroads (as well as most of the others) maintained ticket offices on the ground floor of the St. Charles Hotel. The photo is of the L&N’s “Pan American” train, which ran from New Orleans to Cincinnati.
“The temperature at this famous vacation land is delightfully cool and invigorating. Get some mountain air into your lungs, and come back to the South benefited by your vacation.”
L&N offered sleeper car service from New Orleans to Asheville. The trains left New Orleans at 8:30am, arriving the next morning.
“Are Railroad Rates Too High?” – L&N addressed the concerns of the various businesses they serviced. The railroads moved goods across the country in the 1920s. The dominance of trucking and the Interstate highway system did not come until the 1950s. “Cold facts and not wild fancies are shown by the figures here presented.”
While the L&N’s railroad enticements were to the cool mountain air, Southern advertised service to the cities. Two drains daily in 1924, leaving New Orleans at 8:30am and 8:10pm. The day train reached Birmingham, AL, by 6:55pm that evening, and Cincinnati at 9:30am the next morning. The evening train reached Birmingham for breakfast, terminating at Cincinnati at 8:55pm.
Unlike the Pan American’s all-sleeper service on the L&N, Southern Railway offered service via Pullman Sleeping Cars and standard coaches. That enabled the railroad to offer comfort as well as economy fares. Trains included dining cars.