For more than two centuries, Canal Street has been a vital thoroughfare for New Orleanians. Mule-driven carriages served as the first form of public transit down Canal Street in the 1860s, with electric streetcars dominating the line by the l890s. By 1910, streetcars were running the length of Canal Street and beyond, into the growing suburbs. But as the years went on, buses slowly replaced streetcars on most lines and, in May of 1964, streetcars were completely removed from Canal Street.
After an absence of some forty years the streetcars were returned to Canal Street and the line now runs nearly six miles, from the River to City Park Avenue and the Cemeteries, with a spur at Carrollton Avenue where you can proceed up North Carrollton to Beauregard Circle, the Bayou St. John and the park entrance.
The Canal Streetcar line is expected to carry more than 31,000 riders each day by 2015, bringing local residents to work and play downtown, and tourists to the many shops, restaurants, art galleries and entertainment venues in historic Mid-City and the Park complex.
The Canal Streetcar line includes a fleet of 24 new cars which were constructed by a special team of RTA blacksmiths, carpenters, electricians and mechanics. The streetcars' design resembles the original Perley Thomas models, which are still in use on the St. Charles line.
A ride along St. Charles Avenue is a journey into the history of New Orleans. In 1835, the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad began operation of the St. Charles Streetcar line, then called the Carrollton line. Steam-powered cars traveled from Canal Street through several "fabourgs" (suburbs) in the resort town of Carrollton.
Shortly after the Civil War, ex-Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard leased the N.O. & R.R. and did away with the steam locomotives, reverting to horse power. The horse-drawn streetcars, though inefficient, gave a quieter citywide network of transportation. Horse-drawn streetcars lasted for more than 20 years, despite attempts to replace them with technology such as ammonia powered engines, steam dummy engines and electric batteries.
Finally, in 1893, the first cars that used overhead electricity went into operation. The new electric cars were built by the St. Louis Car Company, and a gala celebration marked the installation of the new system, one that continues to serve the line today. The St. Charles Avenue line was named into the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, the line was declared a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.
This newest of the City's transit systems was inaugurated August 14th, 1988. Long a dream of developers, business people and streetcar enthusiasts, the Riverfront streetcar was the first major capital project in New Orleans to combine the resources of the City's public and private sectors.
The concept was to develop 1.5 miles of the existing Public Belt Railroad corridor. The new line tied together the commercial developments in the Warehouse District, a legacy of the 1984 World's Fair, to the developments along with riverfront in the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny.
Within months of the line opening, it was evident that demand far exceeded capacity. In order to handle the crowds of locals, conventioneers and other visitors, the Transit Authority approved the extension of the line another half mile and the addition of three more streetcars to the line, bringing the total Riverfront fleet to seven streetcars.
Today, the Riverfront line is a major attraction to visitors who want to enjoy shopping in the French Market and the many shops along riverfront. In addition, the line serves the Aquarium of the Americas, the huge Hilton complex, the Riverwalk Shopping Center and the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center.
The Tennessee Williams play certainly made this streetcar internationally famous. It was once part of the city's grand electrified system of public transportation that literally ringed the entire east bank of the city.
That's all it costs to ride the Canal, Riverfront and St. Charles Avenue streetcars. A bargain, for sure!
This material may be reproduced for editorial purposes of promoting New Orleans. Please attribute stories to New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 504-566-5019. www.neworleanscvb.com. Revised 2009.