NEW ORLEANS & CARROLLTON
RAILROAD:

The New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad began operation September 26, 1835 along the route of today's St. Charles line. Horse and mule cars started at Canal and Baronne, steam trains ran from Tivoli Place (now Lee Circle), up Nayades (now St. Charles) to Carrollton. Two branches, operated by horsecar, left the main line and ran in to the river on Louisiana and on Napoleon. From 1853 to 1864, the Jefferson & Lake Pontchartrain Railway Company, owned by the NO&CRR, through-routed trains from the Lake at Bucktown via Nayades to Tivoli Place. Steam engines were used 1835-68 and 1874-89; mule cars, 1835-93. The gauge of the Carrollton line and its branches was 4' 8½".

Two car lines preceded St. Charles, both opened by NO&CRR. The very first route in the City was Poydras-Magazine, January 1835 to April 1836. The second was Jackson, operating as a streetcar January 13, 1835 to May 19, 1947. Its route was from Baronne and Canal, up Baronne, Delord (Howard), Nayades (St. Charles), Jackson to the river. Carrollton ran over the same route to Jackson when it started service.

On February 1, 1893 the Carrollton line was renamed St. Charles and became the first regular electrified transit route in New Orleans. The line was extended out Carrollton to terminate near the new carbarn on Willow. In 1898 cars ran up Poplar, Gen. Ogden, and Leake to Oak Street. Original electric cars were 1893 St. Louis Car Co. single-truckers.

NO&CRR took over the Canal & Claiborne Railroad Company (née Canal & Claiborne Streets Railroad Company) in 1899, gaining the Claiborne (North), Girod & Poydras, and Tulane car lines. Claiborne and Tulane had been narrowed from 5' 2½" to standard gauge upon electrification to match the St. Charles, Napoleon, and Jackson lines. Girod & Poydras was discontinued as a mule car in 1899.

NEW ORLEANS RAILWAY
& LIGHT COMPANY:

New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad, Light & Power Company, successor to NO&CRR Co., operated from 1901 to 1922. This company was leased by New Orleans Railways Company from 1902 to 1905 and by New Orleans Railway & Light Company from 1905 to 1922.

The big change to the streetcar line was creating the St. Charles Belt on February 19, 1900 in conjunction with the Tulane Belt. Cars started from the River, out Canal, up Baronne, in Howard, up St. Charles, out Carrollton, in Tulane, down South Rampart (later South Liberty), in Canal to the River. Tulane Belt ran an identical route counterclockwise. The Poplar segment became the Oak Street Shuttle (streetcars, later trackless trolleys, and finally the Leonidas bus). The Belts used 1899 FB&D cars, some even running in two-car trains.

Napoleon was broad gauged and through-routed with the New Orleans & Pontchartrain Railway Co. Napoleon line in 1906. This route was gradually pared back in the 1930s and 1940s until its replacement with buses in 1953.

NORy&L Co. purchased fifty streetcars (400-449) from Southern Car Company in 1915. These cars were designed by Perley A. Thomas and went into service on the St. Charles and Tulane Belts and the Jackson line.

Jackson was paired with Claiborne from 1917 to October 28, 1925, when it was widened to broad gauge. Claiborne was widened a year later.

NEW ORLEANS
PUBLIC SERVICE INC.:

New Orleans Public Service Incorporated (NOPSI) was organized August 18, 1922 and assumed all street railway operations, including NO&CRyL&P Co. and NORy&L Co. The Brill- and Perley Thomas-built streetcar series 800-972 arrived in 1923-24. Mr. Thomas was the designer, and they resembled the 400-449 class cars.

By 1926, Jackson was widened and rerouted past St. Charles via Dryades, Howard, South Rampart, Canal, University Place, Dryades, and Jackson. It later ran uptown from Canal via Baronne, Howard, and Dryades.

Changes to the Belts in 1929-30: St. Charles Belt cars no longer served the loop at the foot of Canal. They ran inbound on Tulane, down S. Rampart, in Canal, up Baronne, in Howard Ave., and up St. Charles. By the end of the 1930s they were turning from Canal directly to St. Charles for uptown trips. In 1947 they began using S. Liberty instead of S. Rampart to reach Canal. Tulane Belt continued to serve the loop, going out Howard, down Carondelet, in Canal, around the loop, out Canal, up Loyola (later renamed S. Saratoga), and out Tulane.

In October 1929 NOPSI changed St. Charles and Tulane from standard (4 ft 8½ in) to broad (5 ft 2½ in) gauge to make it compatible with the rest of the transit system.

Jackson was replaced by buses May 19, 1947; the 400-449 cars were withdrawn and the 800-972 class began service on the Belts in 1948. Trolley coaches served the Jackson route from October 2, 1947 to March 19, 1967.

Tulane Belt was discontinued on January 8, 1951 so the New Basin Canal could be filled in and railroads given a single route to Union Passenger Terminal. St. Charles became an end-to-end line from Canal St. to Carrollton and Dixon during construction. When the Tulane trolley coach opened August 10, 1952, St. Charles was cut back to the present Carrollton and Claiborne terminal. The downtown routing was Howard, Carondelet, Canal, and St. Charles.

The St. Charles line was in danger of being replaced by 1968, but protests won the day and the streetcars were retained.

During the 1960s, thirty-five of the 900 series Perley Thomas cars (see list below) were refurbished twice, once before Canal was discontinued in 1964, and again after plans to remove St. Charles were cancelled. Roofs were changed from canvas to aluminum, roof ventilators were removed in favor of slots over the windows. Standee windows were rounded (early rebuilds of the decade show standee windows of various heights, usually from recently retired trolley coaches), the doors received larger and rounded windows, roller bearings were installed in the trucks, and other modifications were made.

Fareboxes were installed in 1970 after numerous robberies. The next year the cars were altered to one-man (or -woman) operation with front entry and a remote controlled interlock for the rear door. When the green light goes on over the exit, the patron pushes the door handle so the door and step open. Only the center two door panels operate in the exit. The door is not air assisted; strong pressure against a tough spring is required to force the door open. No longer using motorman and conductor, the person running the streetcar became known as an operator. For many years a yellow sign (similar to NOPSI's bus and car stop signs) on the dash indicated, "Board at Front/Exit at Rear." There were brake lights temporarily installed on each end of some cars in the early seventies.

The route was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as one of two moving landmarks (the cable cars of San Francisco are the other) on August 4, 1973.

NEW ORLEANS
REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY:

The Regional Transit Authority took control of the St. Charles line as part of the NOPSI acquisition on July 1, 1983. Route number 12 was assigned in 1989, appearing on substitute bus service but not streetcars.

The cars kept the 1960s look until the early nineties, when RTA rebuilt all cars to a more authentic original appearance by completely gutting them and replacing the parts. I remember the preview car number 937, the first of the rebuilds, around 1991-92. The aluminum stripe on the ends, removed in the 1960's, was returned. Fleet numbers (larger than their original NOPSI look) were changed from white back to silver and on the sides appear above the RTA logo. Aluminum roofs were retained. The windows were made rectangular again. The doors now have four window panes per panel, versus two panes at the top of each panel in the original fleet. Inscription on the lower dash next to the right door of each vestibule reads, "Please have exact fare or RTA pass ready", a variation of a one-time inscription that read, "Please help the Service, Have exact fare ready."

Just before the re-refurbished St. Charles cars began appearing, RTA reconstructed the trackage. Chartered coaches, Boyertown "trolley" buses from the Vieux Carre route, and standard RTA diesels were used to bridge the gap along portions under construction. One track at a time was rebuilt to allow shuttling of streetcars to the portions with regular operation. This also permitted the St. Charles line to stay in continuous operation since 1835. Carrollton Station was modernized and buses were removed to Canal Station. Dual gauge track, a remnant of South Claiborne Shuttle service in the late 1920s, was removed from the carbarn turnouts in this rebuild.

The Riverfront line was connected to the St. Charles line in 1997 via Canal Street. An exemption to the grandfathered status of St. Charles permitted Riverfont cars to be operated (although not in revenue service) to Carrollton Station for storage and service. The connector trackage was later expanded into the new Canal line.

Streetcars stopped service August 28, 2005 before Katrina came to land. With the flooding of New Orleans that followed, the city closed down and rail service was suspended. The cars at Carrollton Station escaped water damage, but the overhead needed repair. Eight of the Perley Thomas cars were towed to the Central Business District to start service December 18, 2005 on the Riverfront and Canal lines, whose own cars were damaged by the floods. The St. Charles overhead lines were scheduled for reconstruction in 2006 anyway, so bus service was substituted until completion.

Streetcar service from Canal to Lee Circle opened in '06. Work on the track and overhead continued on the line uptown from the Circle. The Carrollton Avenue segment reopened with streetcars in June 2008, bringing the full line back into operation.

Although streetcars stopped running, I do not consider the "continuous operation" since 1835 broken. The Perleys towed down St. Charles and operated on Canal make it continuous, even if it wasn't on the original route. And labor strikes (1902, 1929, 1975) interrupt service, too, so a hurricane shutdown doesn't count.

Service has increased since Katrina. The schedule in October 2011 offers twenty minutes early mornings, eight to ten minutes daytime, twenty minutes late evenings, and thirty minutes overnight. The latest schedules are available from RTA.

In early 2011 a program to replace the trackage began. RTA is doing the work in sections. In October 2011 the stretch on S. Carrollton between S. Claiborne and Plum was closed during daytime with a bus substitution meeting streetcars at the Willow crossover. During evenings, one car would go to Claiborne and back on the outbound track (the inbound track was reconstructed during the day).

In 2011 RTA replaced the sealed beam headlights on all streetcars with LED lights and added flashing LEDs under the anticlimbers. This was an attempt to make the cars more visible to motorists to avoid accidents. You can now see a streetcar light blocks and blocks away.

Hurricane Isaac swept through Louisiana in late August 2012. RTA substituted buses for streetcars to deal with debris cleanup, and the buses were still in service as of September 5, 2012. Cars returned shortly thereafter.

As of my visit in March 2014, the track reconstruction project is underway just above Napoleon Avenue, yet the bus substitution covers Louisiana to Jefferson Avenues.

THE 35 CARS:

These 35 Perley Thomas streetcars are protected as a National Historic Landmark along with the line. This "grandfathering" means they are allowed to operate without ADA accessibility only on the St. Charles line. (However, RTA got an exception to allow some PTs to run on the Canal line while their own fleet was restored. Accessibility was provided with parallel Canal bus service.) Also, no other streetcars are allowed to operate in revenue service on St. Charles.

Try and guess if I copied this off page 151 of "The Streetcars of New Orleans"!

  • 900, 903, 904, 905, 906, and 907.
  • 910, 911, 914, and 915.
  • 920, 921, 922, 923, and 926.
  • 930, 932, 933, 934, and 937.
  • 940, 945, 947, and 948.
  • 951, 953, and 954.
  • 961, 962, 963, 965, 968, and 969.
  • 971, and 972.

PAGES OF PHOTOS:

Effective February 16, 2012, I have split down the original St. Charles Streetcar page into three parts. Page two has cars up to 926, and page three has cars 930 and up, including bus substitutions. Also see the NORTA Canal Streetcar page for Perleys that were substituted on Canal after Hurricane Katrina.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

Books: "The Streetcars of New Orleans" by Hennick and Charlton; "The Streetcars of New Orleans: 1964-Present" by Earl W. Hampton, Jr.

Contributions: My fellow New Orleans streetcar fans and historians Earl W. Hampton, Jr. and H. George Friedman have been very helpful in providing a number of great photos and additional information.