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New Orleans - November 2003

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New Orleans

Rail Transit Online, November 2003  

First Ride

A streetcar ran the length of Canal Street under its own power on Oct. 2 for the first time in nearly 40 years.  Regional Transit Authority superintendent for vehicle assembly Elmer von Dullen gingerly guided No. 2017, newly minted in the agency’s Carrollton Shops, from Baronne Street to the Cemeteries terminal, testing clearances, track, switches and traction power.  The ride, at walking speed, was deemed a complete success.   “I used to daily ride the Canal streetcar in the 1950s to work,” von Dullen told The Times-Picayune.  “It's amazing.  I never expected the streetcar to return to Canal Street in my lifetime.”  Track and wiring were completed about two weeks earlier, although landscaping and other cosmetic work has yet to be finished.  The $161-million project to restore trolley service on Canal includes production of 23 replica Perley Thomas streetcars — the originals, now 80 years old, operate on New Orleans’ St. Charles line.  A formal dedication ceremony is scheduled for Dec. 6 but revenue service could begin before the end of November (see RTOL, Oct. 2003). 

Web site: www.canalstreetcar.com/index.html

Meanwhile, the Federal Transit Administration on Oct. 9 awarded a $21.6-million grant for the Canal Street project under a $129-million Full Funding Grant Agreement, bringing the FTA contribution so far to nearly $89.6 million.  

Grade Crossing Dispute

Norfolk Southern Railway is refusing to allow the proposed Desire streetcar line cross its freight tracks at grade, placing the project’s future in jeopardy.  The 2.9-mi. (4.66 km) trolley line would follow the North Rampart Street/St. Claude Avenue corridor between Canal Street and Poland Avenue, crossing the NS right-of-way at St. Claude and Press Street.  The railroad, fearing it would be liable in the event of a collision between and streetcar and a train, has rejected any solution other than a grade separation.  The Regional Transit Authority has proposed an electronic warning system and automatic gates but NS has refused to consider it.  The RTA, on the other hand, has ruled out both an underpass, because of potential flooding, and an overpass based on the estimated $27 million cost.  Nearby residents also oppose the viaduct, insisting it will be unsightly and change the character of the area.  Unless a compromise can be reached, the streetcar line may have to be abandoned or truncated at the railroad tracks.  “We pretty much have the rest of the issues worked out to everyone's satisfaction,” RTA Capital Projects Director Don Preau told the Times-Picayune.  “This railroad crossing is the last big thing, and it's a deal killer.” 

The other problems referred to by Preau were neighborhood concerns, although there was little objection to the streetcar plan.  Several businesses objected to a portion of the route that would have run in the right lane of Basin Street to Toulouse Street, then headed back to North Rampart.  The line was re-routed to turn left at Canal Street, and then continue to the riverfront before returning to Rampart.  The RTA hopes to obtain FTA approval of its environmental impact study by next spring and then begin final design.  If federal funding can be arranged and the railroad crossing controversy is resolved, construction could start in the fall of 2005 followed two years later by revenue service.


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