New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Monday, May 20, 2024
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Railroad Ferries


Possible Southern Pacific railroad ferry. Image from the Trackdog website at Railroad and Car Ferries


The Mastodon, a transfer barge at Avondale over three hundred feet long. Image from the same website as above.


The El Grande, another transfer barge at the Avondale/Harahan crossing. Image from the same website as above. For a description of railroad ferry equipment and operations Click This Link 

The shortest-lived rail ferry services in Louisiana – and one of the oddest – was that of the East Louisiana Railroad on Lake Pontchartrain.  Between 1887 and 1892, the East Louisiana constructed its main line westward from the community of Pearl River – where it connected with the New Orleans & Northeastern – to Covington, and also built a branch line from a junction at St. Tammany down to Mandeville on Lake Pontchartrain.

Shortly after it began operating, the East Louisiana obtained trackage rights over the NO&NE between Pearl River and New Orleans.  The NO&NE had opened its line from Meridian, Mississippi to New Orleans on 1 November 1883 when it completed its lengthy trestle over the eastern end of Lake Pontchartrain.  In New Orleans, the East Louisiana built a depot between the south end of the NO&NE yard and the Mississippi River, at the corner of Press and Royal Streets.

Although the NO&NE trackage rights gave the East Louisiana a quick and convenient entry into the Crescent City, the little railroad wanted a route of its very own; so, on 15 Novenber 1895, it purchased the New Orleans, Spanish Fort & Lake RR.  The NOSF&L was a "street railroad" which ran from the intersection of Basin and Canal Streets (later the site of the New Orleans Terminal Company's Terminal Station) out to Spanish Fort, where Bayou St. John flows into Lake Pontchartrain.

The East Louisiana also purchased a 10-year-old ferry, the CAPE CHARLES, and began service between Mandeville and Spanish Fort.  This new operation allowed the railroad to offer its very own service from the heart of the New Orleans business district to Mandeville and Covington, but the 25-mile voyage across Lake Pontchartrain took several hours, and the ferry was more expensive to operate than a train!

While the exact duration of this service isn't known, the ferry was sold to the Gulf & Ship Island Railroad in 1986 or 1987 and rebuilt into a dredge for use at Gulfport, Mississippi.  The East Louisiana sold the NOSF&L to the New Orleans & Western Railroad on 1 July 1897, and the line out to Spanish Fort was abandoned in 1904.  Based on the purchase and sale dates of the NOSF&L, it would appear that the ferry service lasted less than two years.

  • CAPE CHARLES – (#126278) sidewheel ferry, 252.5x36x13 feet, built by Harlan & Hollingsworth at Wilmington, Delaware in 1885 for the New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk RR and used on Chesapeake Bay between Cape Charles and Norfolk, Virginia 1886-1887. Sold to the New York & New England RR, used on Long Island Sound between S. Norwalk, Conn. and Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY September 1891-July 1892. Sold to the East Louisiana RR circa 1895 and used on Lake Pontchartrain between New Orleans (Spanish Fort) and Mandeville. Sold to the Gulf & Ship Island RR circa 1897 and rebuilt into a dredge.

  • Hennick, Louis C., Streetcars of New Orleans, Pelican Publishing Co.; 1975.
  • Saillard, Louis, "New Orelans and the 'Ozone Route'", GM&O Historical Society News No. 59-60 (1990): pages 4-35.
  • Teichmoeller, John, "New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad Sidewheel Walking-Beam Carferry Steamer Cape Charles, The Keystone Vol. 33, No. 4 (Winter 2000): pages 40-45.
  • Ziel, Ron and George Foster; Steel Rails to the Sunrise; Duell, Sloan and Pierce; 1965.
  • Source: 
  • Copcop
    Railroad Ferries
    Tue Nov 26 2002 6:15:55 am