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‘City of New Orleans’ route truncated indefinitely by flood mitigation

By Bob Johnston | February 28, 2019

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JACKSON, Miss. – Beginning Thursday, and just days before the big Mardi Gras weekend, Amtrak’s City of New Orleans from Chicago will start making a same day turn at Jackson with chartered Amtrak Thruway buses making all scheduled intermediate stops to and from the Crescent City. The northbound bus will leave New Orleans Passenger terminal at 1 p.m., 45 minutes before the train normally departs.

The bus substitution is to continue indefinitely. That’s because for the third time in four years, the Army Corps of Engineers has opened floodgates on the Bonnet Carre Spillway south of Hammond, La., that enable excess Mississippi River water to flow into Lake Pontchartrain.

A steady stream always runs under Canadian National’s wooden trestle over the spillway, but the railroad closes its tracks as a safety precaution when open floodgates unleash torrents of water. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that heavy rains in recent days caused the river to rise at one New Orleans location yesterday to 16 feet; 17 feet is flood stage. One official says that this has been the wettest winter in the Mississippi Valley in 124 years.

The spillway, built after a devastating 1927 flood, has 350 bays to let varying amounts of water pass. Only 30 have been opened initially to keep water from rising any higher in New Orleans.

However, the river isn’t expected to crest until mid-March because of extensive snow melt from the north. The Corps of Engineers says it may open more spillway gates and the situation could continue for at least a month, so the City’s short turn could last for some time. Parallel Interstate 55 used by the chartered buses was built with concrete bridges to withstand additional rushing water.

In previous years when the spillway has been opened, trains have sometimes turned at Hammond, La., because the northbound and southbound trains are scheduled to pass south of there. But busing to and from from Jackson saves operating costs (engineers change at Jackson) and enable the equipment to be cleaned and serviced properly.

JohnstonFlooding
The Bonnet Carré Spillway viewed from the ‘City of New Orleans’ on a “normal” spring day, May 7, 2008.
Bob Johnston

10 thoughts on “‘City of New Orleans’ route truncated indefinitely by flood mitigation

  1. Jc Upton, The highway that parallels The City of New Orleans to Jackson is indeed I-55. The floodgates are south of Hammond as the water is flowing into Lake Pontchartrain.

  2. “The parallel highway… was built with concrete supports to withstand the current”. Sounds like a great example of PSR-style service indifference to me. That is, all of the costs of the inevitable nearly seasonal service interruption aren’t taken into account when considering capital improvement projects. Yes talking about freight service here, but the inability for the Class 1s to keep Amtrak close to on time with padded schedules is a good indicator of freight “service” as well.

  3. CN says that they stop trains over the spillway for safety reasons when they open the floodgates. This is the result of EHH. Prior to his administration IC kept the wooden tressle in good shape (freight trains doing 50 and passenger trains doing in excess of 60. I know because when I saw a train going in the direction I was driving on I-10, I would pace it for a couple of miles.Everything moved right along.

    Over the last 15 years speeds on that tressle has dropped. I’ve driven away from trains even when doing only 40. EHH ‘s lack of investment for maintenance is a disgrace.

    By the way CN (ex IC) has 2 tressle over the spillway, the one we are talking about here and the other is near the river that serves the New Orleans to Baton Rouge line. No mention if they shut that down. If so how are they serving all the petrochemical plants along river.

  4. Something smells here. This was IC’s main line. How did ICRR survive with weeks-long shutdowns some years? Makes no sense to me.

  5. Rode the “City of New Orleans” to/from the Crescent City last year, and it sure looks like a new bridge is being constructed near and parallel to the existing structure, easily visible from the train.

  6. Early/mid year 2018 they started replacing the formerly double tracked wooden spillway tressle with a precast concrete & steel “SINGLE” track one.

  7. I’m sure glad the ”City of New Orleans” isn’t scheduled, at this time, to continue on to Orlando!! How are they rerouting the freight trains at this time, to the Crescent route?

  8. Just curious: Does CN stop all freight traffic for days or weeks because of the spillway opening? I have a feeling maybe not. There is the other bridge which serves the chemical and gas/oil industries on the way to Baton Rouge. From there, a line runs over toward the original mainline at Hammond.

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