Made famous by Tennesee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, New Orleans streetcars are a vital component of local infrastructure. Not simply tourist trolleys, the streetcars transport locals around the city in leiu of bus lines along the major thoroughfares. Hopping on a streetcar is a great way to explore New Orleans while experiencing history - plus it's only $1.25 (exact change only) each way.
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 town of Carrollton, which was once entirely separate from the city of New Orleans.
Shortly after the Civil War, ex-Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard 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 is the oldest continually operating street railway system in the world and was named one of the only moving National Historic Landmarks in 2014.
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, Bayou St. John and the park entrance.
The Canal Streetcar line transports local residents to work and play downtown and carries tourists to the many shops, restaurants, art galleries and entertainment venues in historic Mid-City and City Park.
The Canal Streetcar line includes a fleet 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.
The Loyola Ave. streetcar is the newest streetcar line that links the Union Passenger train terminal, the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, City Hall, the public library and downtown hospitals. These links connect the Sports District to the Central Business District, French Quarter and Warehouse District.
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 in 1988, 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 New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, which operates streetcars in New Orleans, has broken ground on a significant expansion. The new lines will run 2.5 miles along Rampart from Canal Street and continue down St. Claude Avenue to Press Street in the Bywater neighborhood. In addition, a segment will turn off St. Claude Avenue down Elysian Fields Avenue toward the river to tie in with the existing Riverfront streetcar line.
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.
This material may be reproduced for editorial purposes of promoting New Orleans. Please attribute stories to New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 504-566-5019. www.neworleanscvb.com.