Sense: St. Charles Line, Riverfront Line and the "New" Canal
this Page Printer
to bottom: St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line, Riverfront
Streetcar Line, "New" Canal Streetcar Line
Tennessee Williams penned “A Streetcar Named Desire,” effectively
immortalizing the public transit line that, from the 1920s,
served the rollicking French Quarter as well as the working
class Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, located downriver.
Sadly, the last car to serve the Desire line rattled through
town in 1948, a victim of transportation “progress.” It
was replaced by a choking diesel bus, which lacked the aesthetic
value of the streetcars. Where 235 miles of streetcar tracks
once formed a lace across the city’s streets most of
the tracks were ultimately paved over, as noxious buses became
the standard. Blessedly, even the Purveyors of Progress could
not bear to dismantle the charming St. Charles Avenue streetcar
line and its service has remained uninterrupted since its inception
in 1893. Spacious olive green 900-class streetcars built by
Perley A. Thomas Car Company in 1923-24 still serve the line
today. These cultural icons were fully restored and refurbished
between 1988 and 1994.
Historic St. Charles Avenue Line
The St. Charles Avenue Streetcar
may very well be the nation’s most pleasant form of public
conveyance existing today. The line was named to the National
Register of Historic Places in 1973. To maintain this stature,
the Regional Transit Authority, which operates New Orleans’ streetcar
system, has rejected adding air conditioning and making the streetcars
wheelchair accessible. However, the 46 streetcars’ double-hung
windows can easily be opened to emit the cooling breezes generated
by the moving cars so it’s always a comfortable ride.
For a leisurely exploration of the Central
Business District, the Garden District and Uptown, visitors
staying in the French Quarter should board the St. Charles
Avenue streetcar at the corner of Carondelet and Canal streets
(Stop No. 0). Each car stop has a designated number and there
are dozens of stops along the line. The line serves a 6 ½ mile
run that stretches between Stop No. 0 at the edge of the French
Quarter, down St. Charles Avenue to the Riverbend where it
turns onto South Carrolton and continues to its terminus at
South Carrollton and South Claiborne avenues. The cars turn
around at the end of the line and head back in the opposite
direction. A one-way trip along the line takes about 45 minutes.
In 1988 when city officials unveiled a new 1.9 mile Riverfront
Streetcar Line they were amazed by the enthusiastic reception
it received. What was originally planned as a novelty project
to be rolled out in conjunction with that year’s National
Republican Convention quickly became a favored means of transportation
for both visitors and locals. It was the city’s first
new streetcar line since 1926 and the Powers That Be quickly
determined that with regard to public transit in New Orleans
the old ways were, indeed, the best. Plans to re-invigorate
streetcar service throughout key areas of New Orleans were
soon underway. Seven bright red streetcars now service the
Riverfront line, which includes 10 stops between Esplanade
Avenue and the Morial Convention Center. The one car with
its doors located at either end is a vintage Perley A. Thomas’ built
in 1923-24, like the St. Charles cars. The remaining Riverfront
cars were built by the RTA in partnership with local vendors
and craftsmen. Though they are not air-conditioned, like
the St. Charles cars the double-hung windows open to emit
the river breeze. All of the cars are wheelchair accessible.
The "New" Canal Street
In the spring of 2004, streetcar service was joyously welcomed
back to Canal Street after a 40-year absence. The new Canal Streetcar
Line tied into the existing Riverfront Streetcar Line from Esplanade
Avenue to Canal Street and along Canal Street from the Mississippi
River to a streetcar terminal at City Park Avenue and the Cemeteries.
A spur line along North Carrollton Avenue connects Canal Street
to City Park at Beauregard Circle, making for easy access to
the park and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Streetcars run in
the neutral ground on Canal Street for the entire 4.13 miles.
Tracks for the one-mile spur on North Carrollton Avenue run in
the left traffic lane and terminate at Beauregard Circle opposite
the New Orleans Museum of Art. Like the St. Charles Avenue Line,
the Canal Line provides French Quarter visitors with easy access
to some of the city’s other unique neighborhoods – in
this case Mid City and the cemeteries.
Like the Riverfront cars, the 24 cherry
red cars that service the Canal Line were locally built under
the auspices of the RTA. All of them are air-conditioned and
provide wheelchair access. Due to the space needed to accommodate
wheelchairs, the Canal and Riverfront cars provide seating
for 42 passengers, 18 fewer than the St. Charles Avenue cars.
All three of New Orleans’ streetcar lines provide service
24-hours a day with frequent service during the day and hourly
appearances from midnight to 6 a.m. The fare for each is $1.25
per person. Transfers cost $.25. Exact change is required.
Jyl Benson is a New Orleans-based writer and
publicist and frequent contributor to Time, New Orleans, St.
Charles Avenue and the Times Picayune. She also regularly contributes
to travel and guide books on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.