Like homes and businesses along much of their route, the Canal streetcars that were flooded in their Mid-City den after Hurricane Katrina are now undergoing major repairs to bring them back to like-new condition.
With the arrival of an influx of cash from FEMA, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) has begun what officials say will be a complete overhaul of all 24 red streetcars, which first saw service with the return of the Canal streetcar route in 2004. The streetcars were inundated after the levees failed following the hurricane.
The RTA will also rebuild six Riverfront line streetcars that were flooded. In all, FEMA is providing $21.6 million for the streetcar work, while the RTA expects other funding from the state. In addition, FEMA is providing $21.4 million to help the RTA replace some of the 205 buses that were lost to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
RTA spokeswoman Rosalind Blanco Cook says the first refurbished Canal streetcars should be ready for service during the summer, though it will take quite some time for the entire fleet to be completed.
“Once the first [streetcar] is done, we expect to have one roll out every two months,” she says.
The Canal streetcar route dates back to 1861, but was discontinued and its line dismantled in 1964 over the protests of local preservationists. Forty years later, the city invested millions to bring the line back as a more efficient alternative to diesel buses and also as an economic development spur for the neighborhood around its route. The fleet of vehicles was built from scratch by RTA craftsmen and specialized contractors at the Willow Street maintenance barn. The refurbishing work will take place in the same facility.
Meanwhile, the RTA is making progress rebuilding the systems for the St. Charles streetcar line, which were severely damaged by downed oak limbs in the hurricane, even though its fleet of 1920s vintage streetcars went largely unscathed. While the RTA has restored the loop between Canal Street and Lee Circle, it will likely take until the end of 2007 to complete the entire route.
“Before the storm we had planned to do this type of the work to the St. Charles route,” Cook says. “Of course, we would have done it in sections and now we have to do it all at once. It’s a big, big project.”
— Ian McNulty