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New Orleans - January 2006

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New Orleans — Streetcars Return

Rail Transit Online, January 2006 

Limited streetcar service was inaugurated on Dec. 18 following a successful test run of an original Perley Thomas trolley along Canal Street on Dec. 10.  Regional Transit Authority crews towed undamaged No. 930 from Carrollton Station to a portion of Canal, where the overhead wiring and traction power equipment is still operational.  The car, decorated with a bow and a green garland, then ran under its own power from Crozat Street to the French Market.  RTA officials use eight of the St. Charles cars — six in service and two spares — along the entire Riverfront route from the French Market to the Convention Center between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily.  A truncated Canal Street route will start at the French Market, at Esplanade Avenue and the Mississippi River, and run to Crozat Street from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.  Both routes will be fare-free until March.  “It's symbolic,” RTA Deputy General Manager for Operations Gerald Robichaux told The Times-Picayune.  “The streetcars are making a statement that we're ready to make this city come alive again.” 

All 35 of the Perley Thomas streetcars that normally operate the St. Charles Line were spared by Hurricane Katrina but the right-of-way and power system were badly damaged.  Conversely, the Riverfront Line infrastructure and a segment of that on Canal Street was left operational but the newly-built replica heritage cars that service both routes were flooded and will require extensive repairs.  Earlier estimates indicated it might be a year before the streetcars would return but recently RTA officials began circulating a plan to use the St. Charles cars on Canal.  It’s estimated that only about one-third of the pre-hurricane population has returned to New Orleans and ridership is very low on the limited bus service currently in operation.  Robichaux said he wants to extend trolley service all the way up Canal to the cemeteries and along the City Park Avenue branch.  But that will have to wait until new rectifiers are obtained and installed, which could be next summer or later.  Robichaux indicated other U.S. transit properties may help out the RTA with rectifiers but gave no details.  No schedule has yet been established to repair the replica and Riverfront fleets and the traction power system on St. Charles. 

Streetcars Get Federal Funding

The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA) on Dec. 16 was given the go-ahead to use up to $70 million in federal funds to make needed repairs to the streetcar system and help pay for operations.  The money will be provided through the Federal Transit Administration, with agreement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta also announced that NORTA’s local match will be deferred for five years, allowing the agency to immediately begin rebuilding damaged rail lines, buying supplies and repairing buses and other equipment without first having to secure local funding. 

Some of the federal money will be used to repair and upgrade the St. Charles Avenue line beginning Jan. 9. The first phase of the $10.75-million project will see installation of new traction power poles by contractor Boh Bros. from Canal to Calliope streets downtown, which could allow service on that 1.5-mi. (2.41 km) segment to resume next fall.  RTA officials have not estimated when the entire 13-mi. (20.9 km) St. Charles route will be back in operation.  The downtown project, including renovation of the power system and overhead wiring, was planned prior to Hurricane Katrina but fortunately had not started.  Three 600-volt substations installed some 60 years ago, all located in the middle of the line and wrecked by Katrina, will be replaced with new units, one at each end and one in the middle.  “If one goes down, the other two can carry the load,” Basha told The Times-Picayune.  “A redundancy is built into the system.”  The work will require half the time originally projected because crews can work faster on an inactive line.  Also needing replacement are wires and poles along St. Charles Avenue that were brought down by oak trees toppled by the storm.  RTA officials expect insurance payments and FEMA to pay for much of the repairs.  “Now that we've got the Riverfront line and part of the Canal line going, our goal is to get the St. Charles line up and running,” RTA spokeswoman Rosalind Blanco Cook told The Times-Picayune

Web site: www.norta.com


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