HERCULEAN efforts have been made by railways in the US Gulf Coast region to restore services in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina on August 29.

Once the storm had passed, pre-positioned maintenance-of-way gangs swung into operation, restoring track and signals wherever possible. However, major ports such as New Orleans, Mobile and Gulfport are expected to handle only limited volumes for the foreseeable future, not least because many factories remain closed but also because many employees were forced to flee.

Norfolk Southern reopened its line to New Orleans on September 13 after a remarkable restoration of its Lake Pontchartrain bridge. Nearly 8 km of track had been swept into the lake from the top of the 9·3 km structure, which suffered only superficial damage. NS used nine barge-mounted cranes to lift the track, most of which was reusable, off the lake bottom and back onto the bridge. Sleepers were replaced where necessary and new ballast installed.

Other staff repaired the 14·5 km of track running through New Orleans that had been washed out or otherwise damaged. ’The resumption of rail service following this disaster is a tribute to the dedication and efforts of Norfolk Southern people’, said NS Chairman & CEO David R Goode. In the wake of the unprecedented storm, NS employees had inspected 2253 km of track, removed 5500 fallen trees, installed 11000 sleepers and unloaded 55000 tonnes of ballast.

By mid-September, Union Pacific and BNSF had also reopened facilities in the New Orleans area. Canadian National reported its direct line from the north across the west end of Lake Pontchartrain had returned to operation on September 13 - a secondary route had been repaired earlier in the month. CN’s Mays Yard just outside New Orleans was in normal operation, including the interchange with BNSF and UP.

CSX is not expected to resume service along its coastal line between Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans for many weeks. This part of the Gulf Coast suffered the brunt of the hurricane, causing extensive track damage and wrecking bridges.

The tram lines in New Orleans were badly damaged, and the Philip Randolph depot, where 24 replica vintage trams and those used on the Riverfront Line are housed, was flooded by possibly toxic water. Regional Transit Authority Finance Director Mark Major said some of the newly-built trams might not be salvageable, although all were covered by insurance. Costing more than $900000 each, they were built by RTA for the reinstated Canal Street line, which was only opened last year.

Major said that the RTA believed the trams were icons of the city and some rail service should be running as soon as possible. Canal Street and the historic St Charles Street route were submerged along much of their length, and the condition of track, overhead line and substations was unknown at mid-September.