Errol Laborde: The Reds vs. The Greens – Comparing the Streetcars

Tennessee Williams hit it right when he changed the name of his play from The Poker Night to A Streetcar Named Desire. Not only was the latter title far more intriguing, it immortalized the New Orleans trolley. In recent years the condition of the local streetcar system has left a lot to be desired. But, things are getting better.

Katrina’s aftermath knocked out the trolley’s track system along the St. Charles Avenue line, but its green streetcars, which were housed at the Willow Street car barn, were untouched.

Conversely, the track system of the Canal Street line survived, but the red streetcars, housed in a car barn on the same street, were flooded.

The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) was left with two halves of a streetcar system, resulting in the green St. Charles cars being sent to run on the
Canal line for a couple of years, while the red streetcars and the St. Charles lines were repaired.

Now the halves are joined together again, creating one whole system. The red streetcars are back traversing Canal Street and the riverfront, while the green ones wobble along St. Charles.

Once again we are left to ponder the differences between the two types of streetcars, arranged by the following categories:

Historical Significance
Green Streetcars: These cars date back to the 1920s, when the Perley Thomas Company of Highpoint, North Carolina manufactured them. Cars are numbered in the 900s in chronological order of their age, with car 900 being the oldest. After restorations in the 1980s, all cars now are similar on the inside. A 900 series Perley Thomas would have been what Tennessee Williams saw, and inspired his famous play.
Red Streetcars: Began service in 2004, after the Canal Street line went on a nearly 40 year hiatus. They were severely damaged by Katrina in 2005, and have gradually returned to service.
Advantage: Green

Green Streetcars: These trolleys still make a wobbling noise and they go down the street with an occasional clang and spark mixed in.
Red Streetcars: Operate quietly.
Advantage: Green. Streetcar planners thought riders would appreciate the quietness of the red streetcars. They have found that the clatter of the green ones is part of the charm that the public appreciates.

Green Streetcars: Their doors open to the right of the driver, which is on the street side.
Red Streetcars: Their doors open on the left side, which is toward the middle of the neutral ground.
Advantage: Red. It is much safer to board away from traffic.

Green Streetcars: They look like what they are, classic early American trolley cars.
Red Streetcars: these look decent, but lose points for that phony-looking window casing on the top(which is really just a covering for the mechanical system).
Advantage: Green: This is the real thing.

Disability Accessibility
Green Streetcars: They were built before the nation’s disability acts, and hence have no provisions for the disabled.
Red Streetcars: Required in order to get federal funding, these streetcars have built-in lifts for bringing in wheelchair-bound riders.
Advantage: Red. However, the disabled may fair better using RTA’s program that provides transportation to the disabled without them having to get to a streetcar stop. Also, the process of bringing disabled riders into the streetcars is very slow, though RTA is training its drivers to reduce the time.

Temperature control
Green Streetcars: Windows are their temperature control system. You raise them when it is hot and lower them when it is cold.
Red Streetcars: They have a built-in heating and cooling system.
Advantage: Tie. When the temperatures are at extremes the red cars are the best, but on most days nature’s air works remarkably well.

Ride smoothness
Green streetcars: There is a lot of wobble along the way.
Red Streetcars: These newer tracks are welded in place, and contribute to an overall smoother ride.
Advantage: Red-unless you like the wobble.

Route Scenery
Green Streetcars: Because they run on the St. Charles route there are more mansions, green space and monuments to pass, plus the route includes a block of Canal Street and part of the Central Business District.
Red Streetcars: Mostly travel up and down Canal Street, though some turn at North Carrollton or along the riverfront.
Advantage: Green. Those who know best, the streetcar drivers, have told me the St. Charles route is more interesting.

Overall Funkiness
Green Streetcars. The trolleys are quaint, historic and noisy (though in a delightful way). They are the last known mode of public transportation in which windows can be opened and closed. Breeze is good.
Red Streetcar. Modern, efficient, accessible.
Advantage: Greens. Don’t get me wrong, I like the red ones too, but green streetcars are more fun.

Us: We have streetcars, with three lines to choose from, and most cities do not.

Let us know what you think. Any comments about this article? Write to For the subject line use STREETCARS. All responses are subject to being published, as edited, in this newsletter. Please include your name and location.

Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival- Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via E- mail at or (504- 895-2266)


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