Streetcars in New Orleans

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New Orleans Streetcars
FEMA - 20722 - Photograph by Robert Kaufmann taken on 12-21-2005 in Louisiana.jpg
Streetcars on the Canal Street line.
Locale New Orleans, Louisiana
Open September 1835 (steam locomotives and horsecars)
February 1893 (electric streetcars/trams)
Routes 4
Operator(s) New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA)
Track gauge 5 ft 2 12 in (1,588 mm)
Pennsylvania trolley gauge
Minimum radius of curvature 28 ft (8.534 m) in yard,
50 ft (15.240 m) elsewhere[1]
Route length 22.3 mi (35.9 km)[2]
Passengers (Daily) 20,200[3]
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 Streetcar, 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.

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.


In 1902, there was protest 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.

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. 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.

After World War II, as with much of the United States, many streetcar lines were replaced with buses, either internal combustion (gasoline/diesel) or electric (trolley bus).

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. NORTA 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.[5][6][7][8] 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, NORTA 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.[9]

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 rebuilds.

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.[10] 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 NORTA 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]

  • The      St. Charles Streetcar Line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in America and each car is a historic landmark. It runs from Canal Street all the way to the other end of St. Charles Avenue, then turns right into South Carrolton Avenue to its terminal at Carrolton and Claiborne.
  • The           Canal Streetcar Line uses the Riverfront line tracks from the intersection of Canal Street and Poydras Street, down Canal Street, then branches off and ends at the cemeteries at City Park Avenue, with a spur running from the intersection of Canal and Carrollton Avenue to the entrance of City Park at Esplanade, near the entrance to the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Main article: Canal Streetcar Line
  • The      Riverfront Streetcar Line runs parallel to the river from Esplanade Street through the French Quarter to Canal Street to the Convention Center above Julia Street in the Arts District.
  • The      Loyola-UPT Streetcar Line, opened on January 28, 2013, runs along Loyola Avenue from New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal to Canal Street, then continues along Canal Street to the river, and on weekends on the Riverfront line tracks to French Market. More lines are at the planning stage, and one is under construction in the French Quarter, in approximate prolongation to the new section of the Loyola Avenue line, to begin service in 2015.

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.[11][12][13][14] [15]

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.

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.

Image Model Manufacturer Constructed In Service Number built/in service Capacity
Streetcar in New Orleans, USA1.jpg 900 Series Perley A. Thomas Car Works
High Point, North Carolina
1923–1924 1923–present 73/35 in current operation 52
NewOrleansHUDRedStreetcarRiverfrontCanal.jpg 457-463 Series
900 Series Replicas
New Orleans Regional Transit Authority 1997 1997–present 7/7 in current operation 52
New Orleans Streetcars 2009 05.jpg 2000 Series
900 Series Replicas
New Orleans Regional Transit Authority 1999, 2002–2003 1999–present 24/24 in current operation 52

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:[16]

  • Poydras-Magazine (January 1835 – March/April 1836) – Though short-lived, this was the first true streetcar line to begin operation in New Orleans, having opened the first week of January 1835.
  • Jackson Ave. (January 13, 1835 – May 19, 1947) – This long-running line also opened before the St. Charles line, on January 13, 1835. Replaced with trolley bus and later diesel bus service.
  • Louisiana Ave. (February 4, 1850 – 1878, August 27, 1913 – December 27, 1934) – The original 1850–1878 Louisiana Line was a branch line of the New Orleans & Carrollton, running on Louisiana from St. Charles to the river at Tchoupitoulas. The later 1913–1934 line ran from Canal Street up to Louisiana Ave. on Freret and Howard (now LaSalle) Streets, then to Tchoupitoulas. For part of its life, it terminated on Canal Street at the ferry landing.
  • Napoleon Ave. (February 4, 1850 – February 18, 1953) – Like the Louisiana Line, the original Napoleon Ave. line was a branch line of the New Orleans & Carrollton, running on Napoleon from St. Charles Ave. to the river at Tchoupitoulas. Unlike the Louisiana, it was extended to Canal Street when electrified in 1893. A second line, popularly known as the Royal Blue Line, was opened on January 1, 1903 from St. Charles out to the end of the Avenue at Broad Street. The two were combined in 1906. With the Shrewsbury Extension on Metairie Road, which operated from 1915–1934, this was the longest streetcar line in New Orleans. Its routing was as follows: on Napoleon Ave. from Tchoupitoulas to S. Broad, then turning right onto S. Broad, left onto Washington Ave. (running between the street and the Palmetto-Washington drainage canal), right onto S. Carrollton Ave., left onto Pontchartrain Blvd. (this would now be impossible due to the presence of the Pontchartrain Expressway / I-10), left onto Metairie Rd., then zig-zagging through several Old Metairie streets to a terminus at Cypress and Shrewsbury Rd. (now Severn Ave.).
Streetcar on Esplanade Avenue, 1921.
  • Esplanade Ave. (June 1, 1861 – December 27, 1934) – This was the first streetcar line to traverse the "back-of-town" section of New Orleans, running all the way out Esplanade Ave. to Bayou St. John in its original routing. From 1901–1934 the Canal and Esplanade lines operated in a loop as the Canal-Esplanade Belt, until Esplanade Ave. went to buses in 1934.
  • Coliseum (originally Canal and Coliseum and Upper Magazine) (September 1, 1881 – May 11, 1929) – Known as the "Snake Line" because it curved all over the place in uptown New Orleans. Originally operating on Coliseum Street from Canal to Louisiana, it was extended piece by piece over the years, first on Magazine to the present Audubon Park, then through the park to Broadway and then across to Carrollton Ave., where it connected to the loop on Oak and Willow Streets from Carrollton to the Orleans-Jefferson parish line. Beginning in 1913, however, the Magazine Line took over all trackage on Magazine Street, and a shorter Coliseum Line ended near Audubon Park.
  • Magazine Street (June 8, 1861 – February 11, 1948) – Its longest routing, in the 1910s, took it all the way from Canal Street, up Magazine and Broadway to S. Claiborne Ave. Replaced with trolley bus and later diesel bus service.
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.
  • Prytania St. (June 8, 1861 – October 1, 1932) – Known as the "Silk Stocking Line", Prytania ran through the Garden District.
  • Bayou Bridge and City Park (mid-1861 – December 22, 1894, route absorbed into Esplanade line) – This early line ran the full length of the present-day City Park Ave. (then called Metairie Rd.)
  • Tchoupitoulas Street (August 10, 1866 – July 2, 1929) – This early riverfront line once ran the full-length of Tchoupitoulas St. from Canal Street to Audubon Park.
  • N. Claiborne Ave. (May 13, 1868 – December 27, 1934) – This was a downtown (i.e., downriver) line. From 1917 to 1925, it was operated as a single line with the Jackson Line.
  • Tulane Ave. (originally Canal & Common) (January 15, 1871 – January 8, 1951) – From 1900–1951 the St. Charles and Tulane lines operated in a loop as the St. Charles-Tulane Belt, taking passengers past the beautiful homes on St. Charles Ave., up S. Carrollton Ave. past the St. Charles Line's present terminal at S. Claiborne Ave., across the New Basin Canal (now the site of the Pontchartrain Expressway), turning at the former Pelican Stadium onto Tulane Ave. and back downtown. The Tulane Avenue service became a trolley bus and later a diesel bus route.
  • Broad St. (originally Canal, Dumaine & Fair Grounds) (1874 – July 16, 1932) – After 1915, the Broad Line had two branches, on St. Bernard and Paris Avenues.
A Clio line streetcar in St. Charles Street, New Orleans Central Business District, 1920.
  • Clio (January 23, 1867 - September 1, 1932) - This line originally ran from Canal Street up to Clio Street to Magnolia Street, returning on Erato and Carondelet Streets. In 1874, it was extended across Canal Street to Elysian Fields, making it the first streetcar line to cross Canal Street. It was extended at both ends from time to time, before giving up its territory to newer lines in 1932.
  • Carondelet (July 29, 1866 - September 7, 1924) - This uptown line ran on its namesake street from Canal Street to Napoleon Ave. At its most extensive, it also ran on Freret Street from Napoleon to Broadway, on trackage that eventually became part of the Freret line, and it crossed Canal Street into the French Quarter, pioneering the route of the later Desire line.
  • Annunciation (February 27, 1867 - December 23, 1917) and Laurel (August 12, 1913 - July 5, 1939) - These were uptown lines near the River, running on Annunciation and Chippewa Streets, and on Laurel and Constance Streets.
  • West End (April 20, 1876 – January 15, 1950) – This line is still fondly remembered for its jaunty ride through the grassy right-of-way along the New Basin Canal (now filled in) to the popular West End area on Lake Pontchartrain.
  • Spanish Fort (March 26, 1911 – October 16, 1932) – Further east along Lake Pontchartrain at the mouth of Bayou St. John was another amusement area built around an old fort. This was the original location of Pontchartrain Beach before it moved further east to Elysian Fields Ave. The Spanish Fort Line branched off of the West End Line at what is now Robert E. Lee Blvd.
  • S. Claiborne Ave. (February 22, 1915 – January 5, 1953) – In its later years, this line operated at the edges of the neutral ground, which covered a large drainage canal, part of which was open. The part of the neutral ground that was covered was planted in grass and ornamental trees and bushes, and was quite beautiful.
  • Desire Street (October 17, 1920 – May 29, 1948) – This line ran through the French Quarter down to its namesake street in the Bywater district. It was immortalized in Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire. The line was converted to buses in 1948. Various proposals to revive a streetcar line with this name have been discussed in recent years, but the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority has no current plans to rebuild. For many years, a 1906 Brill-built semi-convertible streetcar was displayed in the French Market with a Desire route sign, although there is no evidence that cars of this type ever served the Desire Line. At first it was under cover; later out in the open, it deteriorated from the weather, and in the 1990s it was turned over to New Orleans RTA. It is currently housed at Carrollton Station in the car shops.
  • Freret St. (September 7, 1924 – December 1, 1946) – Replaced with trolley bus and later diesel bus service.
  • St. Claude Ave. (February 21, 1926 – January 1, 1949) – This and the Gentilly Line were the last two streetcar lines to open in New Orleans until August 1988 (inauguration of the Riverfront line). Replaced with trolley bus and later diesel bus service. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority has plans to rebuild a similar route.[17]
  • Gentilly (February 21, 1926 – July 17, 1948) – Gentilly was derived from the old Villere Line. It was unusual in being named for the neighborhood it served, rather than the street along which it ran. At one end, it traversed the French Quarter. Then it turned up Almonaster (now Franklin) to its terminal at Dreux. Replaced by diesel bus service, which was eventually renamed Franklin for the street.
  • Orleans/Kenner interurban (or O.K. Line) – This line operated between 1915–1931 and connected New Orleans to Kenner. It began at the intersection of Rampart and Canal in New Orleans and followed the route of the present-day Jefferson Hwy. through Jefferson Parish to the St. Charles Parish Line in an area then known as Hanson City (now part of Kenner). This line was not a NOPSI service, although it came under NOPSI control in the late 1920s.[16]


  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". 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. ^ "About the RTA". New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  5. ^ Reid, Molly (10 November 2007). "Fanfare greets streetcar's return to part of Uptown". NOLA Media Group. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  6. ^ Eggler, Bruce (22 December 2007). "St. Charles streetcar route to grow again Sunday". NOLA Media Group. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  7. ^ Faciane, Valerie (22 June 2008). "Back on line: Streetcars return to South Carrollton". NOLA Media Group. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  8. ^ "St. Charles Streetcar Line Update". New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. 2008. Archived from the original on 14 October 2008. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  9. ^ Friedman, Jr., H. George. "Canal Street: A Street Railway Spectacular". University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  10. ^ "Repairing New Orleans' Streetcars". Mass Transit. 5 October 2011. Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  11. ^ "Mayor Landrieu and Regional Transit Authority Announce French Quarter Streetcar Expansion". New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. 25 January 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  12. ^ Donze, Frank (25 January 2011). "Streetcar service along Rampart, St. Claude is getting a green light". NOLA Media Group. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  13. ^ Dall, Tania (6 March 2013). "N. Rampart-St. Claude streetcar project moves forward". WWL-TV. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  14. ^ Vanacore, Andrew (7 March 2013). "As New Orleans plans another streetcar line, tug of war emerges over priorities". NOLA Media Group. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  15. ^ "Construction to Begin Soon on Streetcar Line Through the Marigny". Tribune Broadcasting Company. 24 June 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  16. ^ a b Hennick, Louis C.; E. Harper Charlton (1975). The Streetcars of New Orleans. Jackson Square Press. ISBN 978-1565545687. 
  17. ^ "Loyola Project Alternative Analysis". New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. Archived from the original on 8 December 2010. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 

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