Friday, February 20, 2015

Streetcars/Trolleys in New Orleans…Plus!

Certain large cities in the USA are special or different than the “typical” metro area.  Certainly New Orleans fits this image.  San Francisco also immediately jumps to my mind.  Both cities have something in common…an old time, unusual and related mode of transportation.

San Francisco has its Cable Cars and New Orleans has these old fashioned streetcars or trolleys. Both are very popular and are heavily utilized.  I think that they really add character to the city scene… This 2000 series trolley is operating on the Canal Street Line.  It’s a replica of the original 900 series that was built in the mid-1920's. (FYI…New Orleans’s residents prefer the term ‘streetcar’ vs. trolley)

With one exception, New Orleans’ trolley or streetcar lines were replaced by bus service in the period from the late 1940's to the early 1960's.  However, in the later portion of the 20th century, trends began to favor rail transit again. Service was returned to Canal Street in 2004…40 years after it had been shut down.

To check out the 4 New Orleans streetcar lines now in use, as well as fares and schedules, just go to

This is the front of the interior of one of the original 900 series trolleys.  It is one of approximately 35 original units that are still in service. 

These early streetcars/trolleys were built by the Perley A. Thomas Car Works, Inc.  This company was a 20th-century builder of wooden and steel streetcars.  It was based in High Point, North Carolina.  The company later transitioned to building school buses…as Thomas Built Buses.  That company is now a division of Daimler Trucks North America, the parent company of Freightliner.

This is a view of the back of one of the original 900 series trolleys.  All of the trolleys, original or replica, seat 52 passengers.  On our ride on the St. Charles Avenue line out to the Garden District, it was late in the morning and the passenger load was light…

Streetcars in New Orleans have been part of the city's public transportation network since the first half of the 19th century.   Currently, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority operates 4 distinct trolley lines.  While impressive, it’s a modest operation when compared to the number of lines in operation back in the system’s heyday when there were at least 2 dozen routes.   

While I prefer the streetcars, Laurie would prefer this alternate method of transportation…be it via mule or horse drawn carriage.  Carriage rides are available at Jackson Square in the French Quarter and rides are available from 8:45 am to around 11 pm. 

Despite the fact that I also like horses and mules, one reason that I prefer the trolley is the price!  A half-hour carriage ride is $18.00 per person (plus tip) but to be fair, it is also a tour with the driver acting as your guide.  However, the price of the trolley is a bit more doable as riders can buy an all-day Jazzy Pass for only $3.00!  In this day and age, that is a bargain…

At the end of our second day of walking, walking and walking…first throughout the French Quarter and then throughout the Garden District and part of Uptown, I can’t tell you how glad I was to see old number 920 coming down the tracks on St. Charles Avenue!  It was ‘rush hour’ and the streetcar was crowded with local residents on their daily commute… I was glad to see how popular it was. 

The St. Charles Avenue line is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world!  It is also the longest line in the system.  Preservationists were able to convince city government to protect the St. Charles Avenue Line by granting it historic landmark status.  The historic landmark status also applies to the original 900 series streetcars, with 35 or so currently in operating condition.

I was happy to capture this contrasting photograph…an old time replica streetcar trundling along toward us side by side with a Burlington Northern/Santa Fe diesel locomotive.  Unlike the other 3 streetcar lines, the Riverfront Line operates on an exclusive right of way, (no cars and trucks to share the road with), along the river levee beside New Orleans Belt Railway tracks.

The Riverfront Line started service in 1988.  This line uses another 900 series replica streetcar…the 457-463 Series.  It was the third line that we used during our visit.  It operates from the Convention Center past Jackson Square to the far end of the French Quarter.

With the addition of the Riverfront and Canal lines, more streetcars were needed for the system. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s shops built all of the replica streetcars.  They've constructed a total of 31 streetcars to date.  The replica streetcars/trolleys can be distinguished from the older vehicles by their bright red color.  Unlike the original 900 series exempted under historic landmark status, the new streetcars are ADA-compliant and the Canal Street cars are even air conditioned.

Note: The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad is a Class III switching railroad with the primary mission of serving the Port of New Orleans and local industries. The NOPB has direct connections to six (6) Class 1 Railroads.

It may not look like it but this is the former Basin Street Railway Station which is located just outside the French Quarter.  A tour guide explained that the 4th floor is an addition to the original structure.  This structure was also formerly known as the New Orleans Terminal Company/Southern Railway Freight Office Building.  It was built in 1904. 

The sign above the archway is inscribed ‘Basin Street Station’.  Actually this re-purposed building contains elements of 5 different railway stations that once served New Orleans but which have now been demolished.  To view old photos of some of the original railroad stations, you can go to

For railroad aficionados, there is a giant showcase containing some very nice model railroad equipment and rolling stock.  Other exhibits, maps and information can be viewed while exploring the building or waiting for tours.  Seating consists of what appears to be old railroad depot benches. 

Today, this historic railroad building is staffed with travel counselors, murals, art, music, crafts, refreshments and entertainment.  Coffee and snacks are also available.  I think that while it’s a positive thing that the building has been re- purposed and it’s well used, it just doesn’t feel like a railroad station.  

FYI…tours of historic St. Louis Cemetery #1 start here.  The cemetery is located right next door. (More on the cemetery tour in another posting)

That’s about it for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by for a streetcar ride!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. You must have had a ball here with the street cars and railroad buildings. Great snap of the street car and locomotive together. When you showed the inside of the street cars, I imagined ladies in hooped skirts and gentlemen with Lincoln hats. You guys sure made the most of this trip!

  2. Great info on the trolley system, as usual. I like the shot with the locomotive. When we were there, we stayed on St. Charles St and merely had to cross the street to catch the trolley to town but I missed the depot.

  3. I may have told you this (Sorry if I have) --but we lived one block off of St. Charles Ave. (I worked at Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church on St. Charles) and my two youngest sons rode the streetcar to school. How many kids from the south can ever say that?????

    Great group of pictures... Hope we don't get another ice storm tonight.... GADS.