300 railroad

A railcar in 1855

Historic New Orleans Collection

New Orleans had one of the first railways in the United States, but it would be decades before the city fully embraced rail as a major means of commerce and transportation.

The Pontchartrain Railroad started operating in 1831, pulled by horses for more than a year until a steam locomotive arrived in 1832. Smoky Mary, as it would come to be known, operated along Elysian Fields from the Marigny to Lake Pontchartrain for more than 100 years. The rail brought goods and people from the lake into the city. While numerous attempts were made to develop a rail that would travel out of the region, the ideas were largely dismissed during the city’s golden age when the city was flush because of river traffic.

But in 1851, New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern opened a route traveling north from the city.A few decades later, trains began moving be-tween Houston and New Orleans. Soon after, the Southern Pacific Rail-road Company acquired that Houston line and New Orleans became part of a major transcontinental rail route. By 1883, New Orleans was terminus for seven rail systems.

To efficiently serve those lines, New Orleans constructed and began operating the Public Belt Railroad. The railway was bolstered by the completion in 1935 of the Huey P. Long Bridge, which it still owns and operates.