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New Orleans - October 2005

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New Orleans — Streetcar Update

Rail Transit Online, October 2005 

The only rail transit system to be affected by Hurricane Katrina was the New Orleans streetcar which, like the rest of city, was badly damaged, although the full extent won’t be known until a detailed inspection can be carried out after the flood waters recede and basic services re-established.  However, one top Regional Transportation Authority official indicated that restoration of rail service may become a priority.  Based on press reports and first hand accounts along with satellite photos, it appears that Carrollton Station, home of the city’s 1924 Perley-Thomas streetcars, remained dry thanks to its location on higher ground.  The cars and maintenance facility appear to have suffered little or no damage from the hurricane, although it is still not known if looters or vandals attacked the facility.  It’s a far different situation at the A. Philip Randolph Operations Facility in the 2800 block of Canal Street, where 24 replica vintage trolleys and those used on the Riverfront Line are housed.  The yard was inundated with brackish and possibly toxic water infused with gasoline and diesel fuel, soaking the cars up to windshield height. 

“It wasn't a pretty sight,” RTA Finance Director Mark Major told The Times-Picayune.  “Those new streetcars have a lot of delicate electronics.  Even if they were sitting in clear pool water, it would have caused serious problems.  The fact that the water is filled with gasoline and other corrosives is not good news.”  Major said some of the streetcars may not be salvageable, although all are covered by insurance.  They cost more than $900,000 each and were manufactured by RTA shop forces at Carrolton Station for the restored Canal Street line, a $161-million project that opened last year.  “There's a lot that has to be assessed, but we believe it's imperative to get some kind of rail back in service as soon as possible,” Major told The Times-Picayune.  “Our streetcars are icons and it's important that our citizens see them up and running.” 

Canal Street and the historic St. Charles Street trolley route were submerged along much of their length but the condition of track, wire and substations is unknown at this writing.  The tracks along the Canal Street neutral ground (median) are encased on concrete but those on St. Charles are located on a grass-and-dirt neutral ground which could have been undermined.  The Riverfront Line, which runs along a levee on the banks of the Mississippi River, is reportedly dry and was spared damage from the flooding, although the hurricane’s impact must still be assessed.  Many Regional Transportation Authority employees fled the storm and its aftermath and remain scattered, which will delay a resumption of transit service.  Presumably, federal aid will pay for much of the repair work not covered by insurance, a time consuming effort that won’t start until after the city is pumped dry sometime in mid-October.  Employees will not be paid until they return to work because the RTA is receiving no revenue.  Meanwhile, the Amtrak/Greyhound station has been converted into a temporary jail. 


New Orleans — Streetcars Not an Immediate Priority

Rail Transit Online, November 2005

Restoration of service on any of the battered city’s three streetcar lines will not occur anytime soon because massive repair work on other infrastructure is needed.  There has been an assessment of the system’s needs but most public-sector efforts are being directed to basic necessities such as hauling away million of tons of debris, restoring utilities and providing housing so the population can be re-established.  Many traction power poles along the St. Charles Avenue line, which is now being served by buses, were severely damaged along with portions of the trolley wire which were brought down by falling trees.  The 35 historic Perley-Thomas cars survived Hurricanes Katrina and Rita with little damage because Carrollton Station was on higher ground.  But all of the 24 replica heritage cars built by the Regional Transportation Authority for the new Canal Street line and stored at the A. Philip Randolph Operations Facility suffered massive flood damage and must have their trucks, motors, electrical gear and control equipment rebuilt or replaced.  One car reportedly has been sent to Brookville Equipment Co. in Pennsylvania for damage assessment.  The Canal Street right-of-way is reported in much better condition than St. Charles, although DC rectifiers have been ruined.  The RTA is considering transferring some of the St. Charles streetcars to the Riverfront line, which was essentially undamaged.  Six of the seven Riverfront cars stored at Randolph are ruined along with much of the adjacent bus maintenance base.


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