Louisiana Railroads And Railfanning In "The Pelican State"
Louisiana offer little in the way of mountainous operations
and stiff grades, as the state is almost completely flat (saving
railroads from the headache of
such operations). While from a railfan perspective this might be a bit
visually boring, the Pelican State is an important source of both
originating and terminating traffic with the Port of New Orleans
and the lucrative petrochemical industry both located there. Because
of this several classic lines tapped into the state, notably wishing to
reach New Orleans as it was a vital interchange point and originator of
traffic (both passenger and freight). Today, Louisiana is still served
by several Class I railroads (six of the seven) and several short lines
allowing for an interesting mix of operations.
Louisiana railroads date back to 1830 (just a few years after the
Baltimore & Ohio was chartered!) when the Pontchartrain
Railroad was chartered, the first railroad west of the Alleghenies. The
railroad was built to connect a small suburb of New Orleans, Faubourg
Marigny, with Milneburg a town that sat along Lake Pontchartrain. The
railroad was only about five miles in length and was opened a little
over a year after it was chartered on April 14, 1831. At the time of
the line's construction the lake saw a significant amount of imported
goods arriving to New Orleans and as such allowed it to be quite profitable operating as a terminal railroad (as well as moving
By the late 19th century the Pontchartrain Railroad lost most of its freight traffic after ships became too large to navigate into the lake. During the line's last three decades or so it was mostly used as a tourist attraction until it was completely abandoned in 1935, 105 years after it was originally chartered. Following the Pontchartrain Railroad many classic "fallen flags" or their predecessors reached into Louisiana predominantly looking to reach busy New Orleans.
Today, Louisiana is mostly the domain of Class Is CSX Transportation,
Norfolk Southern Railway, Canadian National
Railway (which reached the Pelican State when purchasing the Illinois
Central), Kansas City Southern, BNSF Railway, and Union Pacific (only
Canadian Pacific does not reach the state). The rest is operated by a
host of shortlines which include the Acadiana Railway, Delta Southern
Railroad, Louisiana & Delta Railroad, Louisiana & North West
Railroad, Arkansas, Louisiana & Mississippi, Baton Rouge Southern
Railroad, CG Railway, Gloster Southern Railroad, Louisiana Southern, New
Orleans & Gulf Coast, Ouachita Railroad, Timber Rock Railroad, and
the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad.
For a more in-depth look at Louisiana in terms of its rail mileage please have a look at the chart below. At one time, the Pelican State carried a rail network that totaled over 5,000 miles although today that number has dropped under 3,000 miles. Since the 1920s (when mileage peaked across the country) the state has lost about 44% of its rail infrastructure. This is actually about average (at least in terms of the numbers) as many states have seen similar declines over the same time period with many of the abandonments coming between the 1960s and 1980s.
While Louisiana no longer offers passenger trains like the original Sunset Limited, Crescent, and the Pan-American our national passenger railroad, Amtrak, continues to operate the Sunset Limited, City of New Orleans, and Crescent, all of which terminate and originate in New Orleans (at the New Orleans
Union Passenger Terminal to be exact!). To learn more about some of
the classic "streamliners" that operated through Louisiana please click here.
This page at the site highlights many of these trains, including all
of those mentioned above. If you would like to find out what kind of
train service Amtrak currently operates within Louisiana please click here to visit their website.
Freight and passenger railroads aside, the state is also home to
just a few railroad museums (and, unfortunately, no tourist/excursion
which include the DeQuincy Railroad Museum, Old Hickory Railroad, and
Southern Forest Heritage Museum. Lastly, for more information about the
state's railroad history please visit AbandonedRails.com, a website
which highlights abandoned rail
lines found around the country. All in all, while Louisiana
is rather flat and offers little to see visually, railroads in the
Pelican State has plenty to see, whether you are a vacationer, railfan,
or just a local, perhaps interested in some sightseeing or something to