Streetcars in New Orleans

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New Orleans Streetcars
Streetcars on the Canal Street line.
Operation
LocaleNew Orleans, Louisiana
OpenSeptember 1835 (steam locomotives and horsecars)
February 1893 (electric streetcars/trams)
Routes4
Operator(s)New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA)
Infrastructure
Track gauge5 ft 2 12 in (1,588 mm)
Pennsylvania trolley gauge
Minimum curve radius28 ft (8.534 m) in yard,
50 ft (15.240 m) elsewhere[1]
Statistics
Route length22.3 mi (35.9 km)[2]
Passengers (Daily)20,200[3]
Overview
New Orlean Streetcars.svg
New Orleans streetcar network (interactive version)
existing, active planning, future extensions
 
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New Orleans Streetcars
Streetcars on the Canal Street line.
Operation
LocaleNew Orleans, Louisiana
OpenSeptember 1835 (steam locomotives and horsecars)
February 1893 (electric streetcars/trams)
Routes4
Operator(s)New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA)
Infrastructure
Track gauge5 ft 2 12 in (1,588 mm)
Pennsylvania trolley gauge
Minimum curve radius28 ft (8.534 m) in yard,
50 ft (15.240 m) elsewhere[1]
Statistics
Route length22.3 mi (35.9 km)[2]
Passengers (Daily)20,200[3]
Overview
New Orlean Streetcars.svg
New Orleans streetcar network (interactive version)
existing, active planning, future extensions

Streetcars in New Orleans have been an integral part of the city's public transportation network since the first half of the 19th century. The longest of New Orleans' streetcar lines, the St. Charles Avenue line, is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world.[4] Today, the streetcars are operated by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA).

There are currently four operating streetcar lines in New Orleans: The St. Charles Avenue Line, the Riverfront Line, the Canal Street Line, and the Loyola Avenue Line. The St. Charles Avenue Line is the only line that has operated continuously throughout New Orleans' streetcar history (though service was interrupted after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and resumed only in part in December 2006, as noted below). All other lines were replaced by bus service in the period from the late 1940s to the early 1960s; preservationists were unable to save the streetcars on Canal Street, but were able to convince the city government to protect the St. Charles Avenue Line by granting it historic landmark status. In the later 20th century, trends began to favor rail transit again. A short Riverfront Line started service in 1988, and service returned to Canal Street in 2004, 40 years after it had been shut down.[4]

The wide destruction wrought on the city by Hurricane Katrina and subsequent floods from the levee breaches in August 2005 knocked all three lines out of operation and damaged many of the streetcars. Service on a portion of the Canal Street line was restored in December of that year, with the remainder of the line and the Riverfront line returning to service in early 2006. On December 23, 2007, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) extended service from Napoleon Avenue to the end of historic St. Charles Avenue (the “Riverbend”). On June 22, 2008 service was restored to the end of the line at South Carrollton Avenue & South Claiborne Avenue.

History[edit]

The definitive history of New Orleans streetcars is found in Louis Hennick and Harper Charlton, The Streetcars of New Orleans, Pelican Press,[5] which is the source for this summary of New Orleans streetcar history.

Beginnings[edit]

The earliest public transportation within the city of New Orleans, and between the city and its suburbs up and down the Mississippi River and out to Lake Pontchartrain, was provided beginning in 1831. Those first operations included inter-city and suburban railroad lines, and horse-drawn (or mule-drawn) omnibus lines. (An omnibus is essentially a smaller form of a stagecoach.) The first lines of city rail service were created by the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad, which in 1835 opened three lines. In the first week of January, the company opened its Poydras-Magazine horse-drawn line on its namesake streets, the first true street railway line in the city. Then a horse-drawn line to the suburb of Lafayette, which was centered on Jackson Avenue, opened on January 13. The third was a steam-powered line along present-day St. Charles Avenue, then called Nayades, connecting the city with the suburb of Carrollton, and terminating near the present-day intersection of St. Charles Avenue and Carrollton Avenue. Due to the objections of property owners along Magazine Street, the Poydras-Magazine line ceased operation in March or April of 1836, about the time that a new La Course Street line was opened along that street (now named Race Street). That line ended in the 1840s, but the Layafette and Carrollton lines continued, eventually becoming the Jackson and St. Charles streetcar lines.

As the area upriver (uptown) from the city began to be built up, additional lines were created by the New Orleans and Carrollton. On February 4, 1850, lines were opened on Louisiana and Napoleon Avenues. Like the Jackson line, these were horse- or mule-drawn cars, operating from Nayades Avenue to the river along their namesake streets. The Louisiana line was lightly patronized, and was discontinued in 1878. The Napoleon line continued into the next century.

Up until about 1860, omnibus lines provided the only public transit outside the area serviced by the New Orleans and Carrollton RR. The need was felt for a true city-wide street railway service. Toward this end, the New Orleans City RR was chartered on June 15, 1860. The first line, Rampart and Esplande (later called simply Esplanade), opened June 1, 1861, followed in quick succession by the Magazine, Camp and Prytania (later called Prytania), Canal, Rampart and Dauphine (later Dauphine), and finally Bayou Bridge and City Park. Despite the beginnings of war, the company opened and continued service on its new lines. A few other efforts were attempted during the Civil War, but progress resumed soon after the war's end.

In 1866, several additional street railway companies made their appearance in New Orleans. The first was the Magazine Street Railroad Co., which soon merged with the second, the Crescent City Railroad Co. The St. Charles Street Railroad Co. was next, followed in 1867 by the Canal and Claiborne Streets Railroad Co. and in 1868 by the Orleans Railroad Co. The horsecar lines of these companies covered different parts of the city, overlapping in some areas. The City RR even operated a steam railroad to Lake Ponchartrain, the West End line, which eventually became part of the city streetcar system.[5]

Horsecar companies and lines operated[edit]

The coming of electrification[edit]

A number of experiments were tried out over the next few decades in an attempt to find a better method than horses or mules for propulsion of streetcars. These included an overhead cable car system (an underground cable, such as was eventually developed in San Francisco, was impossible because of the high water table under New Orleans); a walking beam system; peneumatic propulsion; an ammonia locomotive; a "Thermo-specific" system using super-heated water; and the Lamm Fireless engine. Lamm engines were actually adopted and used for a time on the New Orleans and Carrollton line to Carrollton. That line gradually gave up steam locomotives because of the objections of residents along the line, which became a serious problem as the area was completely built up between the suburb of Carrollton and the city. Eventually, horsecars were used all the way up to Carrollton. (Carrollton eventually became part of New Orleans.)

Electrical propulsion of streetcars finally won out over all the other experimental methods. Electric powered streetcars made their first appearance in New Orleans on the Carrollton line on February 1, 1893. The line was also extended out Carrollton Avenue and renamed St. Charles.

Other companies followed suit. Over the next few years, almost all the streetcar lines of all six companies were electrified, including the West End steam line; the few lines that remained animal powered, such as the Girod and Poydras, were discontinued. Also, operations of the six companies began to be consolidated at this time, beginning with formation of the New Orleans Traction Co., which took over operation of the New Orleans City and Lake RR (an 1883 renaming of the New Orleans City RR) and the Crescent City RR in 1892. New Orleans Traction became the New Orleans City RR in 1899, the second company to use that name. The Canal and Claiborne company was merged into the New Orleans and Carrollton in 1899. Then in 1902, New Orleans Railways Co. took over operation of all city streetcars, and in 1905 the operating company became New Orleans Railway and Light Co. Final consolidation of ownership as well as operation finally became reality in 1922 with the formation of New Orleans Public Service Incorporated (commonly abbreviated NOPSI, never NOPS).[5]

Electric streetcars under consolidated operation[edit]

Labor problems began to occupy the attention of street railway officials as consolidation progressed. At first, each of the street railway companies had its own agreement with its operating personnel. New Orleans Railways tried to maintain those separate agreements, but labor representatives insisted on one agreement for the entire company. They also demanded an increase in pay and recognition of their union, Division 194 of the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees of America. The union struck on September 27, 1902. After about two weeks of strife, a settlement was reached, and in early 1903, the company signed a contract and recognized the union.

In 1902, there were protests when the Louisiana legislature mandated that public transportation must enforce racial segregation. At first this was objected to by both white and black riders as an inconvenience, and by the streetcar companies on grounds of both added expense and the difficulties of determining the racial background of some New Orleanians.

Consolidation of operations under a single company had the advantage of untangling and rationalizing some streetcar lines. As an extreme example, consider the Coliseum line, which had the nickname Snake Line, because it wandered all over uptown New Orleans. Its early name Canal and Coliseum and Upper Magazine gives an idea of the route. Under consolidation, Coliseum was pretty much limited to service on its namesake street, with trackage on upper Magazine Street turned over to the Magazine line, as one might expect. Other efficiencies were instituted, such as reducing the number of streetcar lines operating over long stretches of Canal Street.

There was another strike beginning July 1, 1920. This one was settled around the end of July with a new contract.

In the early 1920s, several extensions and rearrangements of service resulted in the inauguration of the famous Desire line, the Freret line, the Gentilly line, and the St. Claude line.

In 1929, there was a widespread strike by transit workers demanding better pay, which was widely supported by much of the public. Sandwiches on baguettes were given to the "poor boys" on strike, said to be the origin of the local name of "po' boy" sandwiches. There was much rioting and animosity. Several streetcars were burned, and several people were killed. Service was gradually restored, with the strike ending in October.

The same year, the last of the 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge) tracks were converted to 5 ft 2 12 in (1,588 mm) (Pennsylvania trolley gauge) to match the rest of the streetcar lines.

Buses began to be used in New Orleans transit in 1924. Several streetcar lines were converted to bus over the next 15 years. Beginning after World War II, as in much of the United States, many streetcar lines were replaced with buses, either internal combustion (gasoline/diesel) or electric (trolley bus).

The last four streetcar lines in New Orleans were the S. Claiborne and Napoleon lines, which were converted to motor bus in 1953; the Canal, which was bussed in 1964; and the St. Charles, which has continued in operation, and now has historic landmark status.[5]

Racial segregation on streetcars and buses in New Orleans was finally ended peacefully in 1958. Until then, signs separating the races were carried on the backs of the seats in streetcars and buses. These signs could be moved forward or back in the vehicle as passenger loads changed during the operating day. Under court order, the signs were simply removed, and passengers were allowed to sit wherever they pleased.

In 1974, the Amalgamated won a representation election and formed Local Division 1560 in New Orleans. Negotiations between the union and NOPSI were unsuccessful, and a strike followed. In December 1974, a contract was signed between NOPSI and Local 1560, but the strike was not completely settled until the following March.[6]

Streetcars under RTA[edit]

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it became apparent that private operation of the New Orleans transit system could not continue. Creation of a public body that could receive tax money and qualify for federal funding was necessary. The Louisiana legislature created the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in 1979, and in 1983, RTA took over ownership and operation of the system.[4]

In 1988, a new Riverfront line was created, using private right of way along the river levee. This was the first new streetcar line in New Orleans since 1926. Then in 2004, the Canal line was restored to rail operation. See the Current Lines and Future Network Expansion sections below.

Hurricane Katrina[edit]

Fallen pole across St. Charles streetcar tracks.

The area through which the St. Charles Avenue Line traveled fared comparatively well in Hurricane Katrina's devastating impact on New Orleans at the end of August 2005, with moderate flooding only of the two ends of the line at Claiborne Avenue and at Canal Street. However, wind damage and falling trees took out many sections of trolley wire along St. Charles Avenue, and vehicles parked on the neutral ground (traffic medians) over the inactive tracks degraded parts of the right-of-way. At the start of October 2005, as this part of town started being repopulated, bus service began running on the St. Charles line.

The section running from Canal Street to Lee Circle via Carondelet Street and St. Charles Street in the Central Business District was restored December 19, 2006 at 10:30am Central time. Service from Lee Circle to Napoleon Avenue in Uptown New Orleans was restored November 10, 2007 at 2:00 p.m. RTA restored streetcar service on the remainder of St. Charles Ave. on December 23, 2007. Service along the remainder of the line on Carrollton Ave. to Claiborne Avenue resumed June 22, 2008.[7][8][9][10] The time was needed to repair the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and to perform other maintenance and upgrades to the lines that had been scheduled before the hurricane. Leaving the line shut down and the electrical system unpowered allowed the upgrades to be performed more safely and easily.

Perhaps more serious was the effect on the system's rolling stock. The vintage green streetcars rode out the storm in the sealed barn in a portion of Old Carrollton that didn't flood, and were undamaged. However, the newer red cars (with the exception of one which was in Carrollton for repair work at the time) were in a different barn that unfortunately did flood, and all of them were rendered inoperable; early estimates were that each car would cost between $800,000 and $1,000,000 to restore. In December 2006, RTA received a $46 million grant to help pay for the car restoration efforts. The first restored cars were to be placed in service early in 2009.[11]

Service on the Canal Street Line was restored in December 2005, with several historic St. Charles line green cars transferred to serve there while the flood-damaged red cars were being repaired. The eventual reopening of all lines was made a major priority for the city as it rebuilt.

Brookville Equipment Corporation located in Pennsylvania was awarded the contract to provide the components to rebuild 31 New Orleans’ streetcars to help the city bring its transportation infrastructure closer to full capacity. The streetcars were submerged in over five feet of water while parked in their car barn, and all electrical components affected by the flooding had to be replaced.[12] Brookville Equipment’s engineering and drafting departments immediately began work on this three-year project to return these New Orleans icons to service. Painting, body work, and final assembly of the restored streetcars was carried out by RTA craftsmen at Carrollton Station Shops. As of March 2009, sufficient red cars had been repaired to take over all service on the Canal Street and Riverfront lines. As of June 2009, the last three Canal Street cars were scheduled for repair. The seven Riverfront cars were worked on next; they began to return to service in early 2010.

Current lines[edit]

Future network expansion[edit]

The French Quarter Rail Expansion was scheduled to begin construction in Spring 2012 with revenue service planned for Fall 2013, but plans had to be postponed. The route is currently planned to be 1.5 mi (2.4 km) long and have 6 sheltered stops. It is to extend from Canal Street down N. Rampart and St. Claude Avenue to Elysian Fields Avenue. Track will be laid in the street next to the neutral ground, like the track for the Loyola Line. Construction is expected to begin in the fall of 2014, with service in 2016. Original plans called for the line to extend to Press Street, and to have a branch extending from St. Claude via Elysian Fields Avenue to connect with the Riverfront line at the foot of Elysian Fields and Esplanade Avenues, but those extensions have not been funded. A future extension is projected down St. Claude Avenue past Press Street to Poland Avenue, next to the Industrial Canal. This would require crossing the Norfolk Southern Railroad at Press Street, which the railroad opposes on safety grounds.[13][14][15][16] [17]

Current rolling stock[edit]

The last 19th century Ford Bacon & Davis car (Ole 29), still in work car service on St. Charles Avenue, 2008.

The St. Charles Avenue Line has traditionally used streetcars of the type that were common all over the United States in the early parts of the 20th century. Most of the streetcars running on this line are Perley Thomas cars dating from the 1920s. The one exception is an 1890s vintage streetcar that is still in running condition; it is used for maintenance and special purposes. Unlike most North American cities with streetcar systems, New Orleans never adopted PCC cars in the 1930s or 1940s, and never traded in older streetcars for modern light rail vehicles in the later 20th century. New Orleanians also continue to prefer use of the term streetcar, rather than trolley, tram, or light rail.

In the Carrollton neighborhood, the RTA has a streetcar barn, called Carrollton Station, where the streetcars of the city's lines are stored and maintained. The block wide complex consists of two buildings: an older carbarn at Dante and Jeannette Streets and a newer barn at Willow and Dublin Streets. The shop there has become adept at duplicating any part needed for the vintage cars.[5]

With the addition of the new Riverfront and Canal lines, more vehicles were needed for the system. The RTA's shops built two groups of modern cars as near duplicates of the older cars in appearance. One group of seven cars was built for the Riverfront line in 1997, and another group for the restored Canal Street line in 1999 (one car) and 2002-2003 (23 cars). These new cars can be distinguished from the older vehicles by their bright red color; unlike the older cars, they are ADA-compliant, and the Canal Street cars are air conditioned.

Before Hurricane Katrina, the historic cars ran exclusively on the St. Charles Avenue Line, and the newer cars on the other two lines. However, in the wake of hurricane damage to the St. Charles line tracks and overhead wires, and to almost all of the new red cars, the older cars were run on Canal Street and Riverfront until the new cars could be repaired. Using whatever worked wherever it could be run continued for several years. By 2010 enough restored streetcars were back in service to again confine the historic Pearly Thomas cars to the St. Charles line.

ImageModelManufacturerConstructedIn ServiceNumber built/in serviceCapacity
Streetcar in New Orleans, USA1.jpg900 SeriesPerley A. Thomas Car Works
High Point, North Carolina
1923–19241923–present73/35 in current operation52
NewOrleansHUDRedStreetcarRiverfrontCanal.jpg457-463 Series
900 Series Replicas
New Orleans Regional Transit Authority19971997–present7/7 in current operation52
New Orleans Streetcars 2009 05.jpg2000 Series
900 Series Replicas
New Orleans Regional Transit Authority1999, 2002–20031999–present24/24 in current operation52

Historic lines[edit]

Map of New Orleans Showing Street Railway System of the New Orleans Railways Company, January 1904.

In the mid 19th to early 20th century, the city had dozens of lines, including:[5]

Streetcar on Esplanade Avenue, 1921.
New Orleans Public Service's Prytania streetcar line, 1907. Two uniformed men stand by entrance, presumably the motorman and the conductor. Streetcar is at Arabella Station carbarn.
Prytania line streetcar at Arabella Station carbarn, 1907.
A Clio line streetcar in St. Charles Street, New Orleans Central Business District, 1920.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Henry, Lyndon (February 2007). "Rapid Streetcar: Rescaling Design and Cost for More Affordable Light Rail Transit". Light Rail Now Project. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  2. ^ "Streetcars in New Orleans". NewOrleansOnline.com. The Official Tourism Site of the City of New Orleans. 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "Public Transportation Ridership Report Fourth Quarter 2013" (pdf). American Public Transportation Association. 26 February 2014. p. 3. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c "About the RTA". New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Hennick, Louis C.; E. Harper Charlton (1975). The Streetcars of New Orleans. Jackson Square Press. ISBN 978-1565545687. 
  6. ^ Amalgamated Transit Union Staff (1992). A History of the Amalgamated Transit Union. Washington, DC: Amalgamated Transit Union. 
  7. ^ Reid, Molly (10 November 2007). "Fanfare greets streetcar's return to part of Uptown". NOLA.com. NOLA Media Group. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  8. ^ Eggler, Bruce (22 December 2007). "St. Charles streetcar route to grow again Sunday". NOLA.com. NOLA Media Group. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  9. ^ Faciane, Valerie (22 June 2008). "Back on line: Streetcars return to South Carrollton". NOLA.com. NOLA Media Group. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  10. ^ "St. Charles Streetcar Line Update". New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. 2008. Archived from the original on 14 October 2008. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  11. ^ Friedman, Jr., H. George. "Canal Street: A Street Railway Spectacular". University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  12. ^ "Repairing New Orleans' Streetcars". Mass Transit. 5 October 2011. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  13. ^ "Mayor Landrieu and Regional Transit Authority Announce French Quarter Streetcar Expansion". New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. 25 January 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  14. ^ Donze, Frank (25 January 2011). "Streetcar service along Rampart, St. Claude is getting a green light". NOLA.com. NOLA Media Group. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  15. ^ Dall, Tania (6 March 2013). "N. Rampart-St. Claude streetcar project moves forward". WWL-TV. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  16. ^ Vanacore, Andrew (7 March 2013). "As New Orleans plans another streetcar line, tug of war emerges over priorities". NOLA.com. NOLA Media Group. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  17. ^ "Construction to Begin Soon on Streetcar Line Through the Marigny". WGNO.com. Tribune Broadcasting Company. 24 June 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  18. ^ "Loyola Project Alternative Analysis". New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. Archived from the original on 8 December 2010. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 

External links[edit]