Riding the rails
The Huey Long Bridge, located a short distance upriver from the City of New Orleans, has been moving rail cars across the Mississippi River for more than 85 years. The bridge is the southern-most river crossing for railroads.
train ride across the huey long bridge
The Huey Long Bridge connects the east and west banks of the Mississippi River in Jefferson Parish. The journey by rail starts long before the auto traffic is anywhere near the span. The bridge’s rail portion is 4.36 miles long. The vehicular traffic is side by side with the railroad for only a short portion of the journey through the bridge’s steel superstructure high above the river.
The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad owns the bridge. The railroad handles all rail traffic through the busy Port of New Orleans. The NOPBR’s engines also handle the delivery of all rail cars over the bridge. In 2019, nearly a half-million cars traversed the bridge’s rails. The NOPBR operates a fleet of 14 engines.
the railroad’s historic structures
The bridge opened in December 1935. The span is named after Louisiana Governor Huey Long, who was assassinated in the Louisiana State Capitol three months earlier. Prior to the bridge’s opening, rail cars had to be ferried in boats across the river. The original bridge was notorious for its very narrow lanes for vehicular traffic. The span had double 9-foot-wide lanes with no shoulders on either side. As you might expect, the slender roadway provided a white-knuckle ride at a dizzying height for generations of New Orleans area drivers. But improvements came in 2013. A 1.2 billion dollar expansion gave the bridge three 11-foot wide lanes for vehicular traffic moving in each direction.
The Public Belt Railroad still uses a 1908 roundhouse and turntable to manage its engines as they move through the busy port. The turntable his hidden from public view along the riverfront. But it provides a quick change of direction for engines as they move through the port’s rail system.
SEE THE PORT’S ENGINE TURNTABLE IN ACTION
Engineers regularly inspect the Huey Long Bridge. “The bridge is in as good a shape today as it was the day it was built,” says NOPBRR’s general manager Mike Stolz. And that’s saying a lot for a bridge that has been connecting cargo with eastern and western railroads since the 1930’s.
tv feature on the public belt railroad
For motorists, the Huey Long Bridge connects the Jefferson Parish west bank community of Bridge City with Elmwood on the Mississippi River’s east bank.