Sights and Sounds of a New Orleans Streetcar

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The iconic sounds of the St. Charles streetcar line

New Orleans streetcars are not just a quint throwback from a bygone era- they're real working public transportation, taken by thousands of people a day.

There are several "lines" or routes in the city, but the oldest is the St. Charles Avenue line, which has been designated as a historic landmark. The cars were built in 1923, and are loud, clackety, wonderful dinosaurs- nothing like the nearly soundless new cars that run on the Canal line. When you hear and see those green cars coming, you know exactly where you are!

(All photos/videos- except the map- were taken by and are property of the author)

History of the St. Charles Streetcar

Insider's tip: In NOLA it's always a streetcar and never a 'trolley.'

Photo courtesy of WikiCommons At one time there were 19 streetcar lines that operated in New Orleans – on the map above, all of those red lines represented streetcar tracks! Yet by the 1970s there was only one left standing- the St. Charles line.

When it was completed in 1833, the line ran steam locomotives between New Orleans and Carrollton. Back then they were two separate towns, and the cars passed through many fields and open areas between. By 1874 most of that land had been developed, and Carrollton had been annexed into the city of New Orleans.

The new residents weren’t too thrilled with the soot and noise of the big trains, and the line was converted to horse-drawn cars, evolving over the years until they reached their current state.

But starting after World War II, the streetcar lines began changing over to bus service, which was considered more modern and efficient. Preservationists were able to have the St. Charles line protected, but around the city hundreds of miles of tracks were ripped up, the streets getting ever more crowded as people bought more cars and busses got bigger and bigger.

Here it comes....

....and there it goes.

Ah, the pain of the streetcar that gives you a miss! Luckily, there was one right behind.

The sounds from inside

Rumbling along

Streetcars make a comeback

The Canal line, running from the Mississippi River to the end of Canal Street at the cemeteries had been torn up in 1964, when they were considered out dated. The streetcars were scraped or donated to museums and buses took over the route.

By the year 2000, people had begun to rethink that decision. Putting the streetcars back on the neutral ground (localspeak for median) would not only reduce traffic on the overcrowded street but would be picturesque as well. The Canal Street Line reopened in 2004 with imported red streetcars. These cars were more efficient and even air conditioned, but many people missed the sounds of the old cars.

We now also have a short track that runs along the Mississippi River by the French Quarter, and is often used by visitors to get around downtown. The Canal line splits and goes to City Park as well, and there are several other lines the city would like to build, if and when they can get them funded.

The maestro at work

The conductor in command

There's an app for that...

Search for and download the free TransitApp from Calliope Digital- it's a lifesaver!

Updated every 30 seconds, it will give you real time information on every bus and streetcar's location!

More than just transportation

The Streetcars can be rented out for special occasions and used for private events.

Every year the Phunny Phorty Phellows rents out a car on Twelfth Night (12 days after Christmas, when that holiday season officially ends and Carnival season begins) and goes the entire length of the line, partying and throwing out beads and trinkets!

Once the big parades begin, they too run on St. Charles Avenue, and the streetcars shut down mid day and don’t start up again until the parades have gone through and the debris has been cleaned up.

Some Streetcar facts

How much does it cost? $1.25 – exact fare required. 1,3 and 31 day passes are available at a discount

How far does it run? 13.2 miles- starting from the French Quarter, through the Central Business District, Garden District, Uptown, Carrollton, Riverbend and finally to Claiborne.

How long does it take to ride from start to finish? About 45 minutes.

What hours does it run? Theoretically 24 hours, but after 9pm, they can be pretty scarce.

What do they weigh? A streetcar weighs a whopping 42,000 pounds- it’s pure steel. Please, please please be careful around them. I’ve seen at least a dozen accidents where someone has tried to “beat” the streetcar across the neutral ground, and trust me- the streetcar always wins.

Streetcars in their natural habitat... their barn and around town

This was the first streetcar on its first run, post Hurricane Katrina.

Interior of the streetcar. The mahogony seats, brass fittings and exposed light sockets are all original.

Inside the barn are many retired streetcars in older styles- including one from San Francisco!

The conductor's cockpit

Streetcar going past a cafe on St. Charles

This photos is part of an ebay slide collection from 1973. Ironically the pic is taken through a bus window, but the streetcar is an older style

Ready for duty! A streetcar gets ready to exit the barn

Tell us about your streetcar experiences...

When and where were you? What did you think?

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  • CountrySunshine Apr 16, 2014 @ 11:46 am
    I've visited NOLA several times, but never experienced the street cars. You've made them sound so interesting that I'll try them next time!
  • paige-pixel Apr 16, 2014 @ 12:20 pm
    Wonderful! A great way to spend a relaxing few hours is to take the riverboat from the French Quarter up to Audubon Park, stroll through the park (or visit the zoo!) to St. Charles and take the streetcar back.
  • arcacia Apr 15, 2014 @ 1:11 am
    I live here in NOLA and I LOVE IT. You captured the streetcar experience perfectly and I love the history and other information you included so others will have fun when they visit this wonderful city :)
  • paige-pixel Apr 15, 2014 @ 10:12 am
    Thanks arcacia! It means a lot that a local approves! :D
  • partybuzz Apr 14, 2014 @ 8:50 pm
    I've never rode on a streetcar, but it sounds exciting!
  • paige-pixel Apr 15, 2014 @ 10:15 am
    Thanks, partybuzz! It's actually more relaxing than exciting, but a unique experience to be sure- hope you come visit us some day and try it out!
  • JaguarJulie Apr 14, 2014 @ 1:54 pm
    I don't think I road the street car when I visited New Orleans; however, I did ride the ones in San Francisco. I love them -- the sights and sounds of the streetcars take me back to the old days before the internet.
  • paige-pixel Apr 15, 2014 @ 10:16 am
    It's definitely a throwback to a more simple time- what a lovely way to put it, and thanks for visiting!
  • cdevries Apr 12, 2014 @ 3:00 pm
    The New Orleans streetcars are wonderful! (And they have their own play, A Streetcar Named Desire, how cool is that?) Dallas is actually adding back streetcars... they travel from the Uptown area to Downtown, serving mainly businesses and restaurants and linking them to the Arts District. Free, too! A great lens!
  • DebMartin Apr 12, 2014 @ 1:49 pm
    The last time I road a street car, it was in the Boston area. Long time ago. I'm glad to hear they are making a comeback. They just make so much sense.
  • tjgurley95 Apr 10, 2014 @ 10:05 am
    This is really cool! Hmu
  • partybuzz Apr 10, 2014 @ 9:06 am
    I've never rode a streetcar, but I'd love to! Congratulations on LotD! :)
  • Sonia8888 Apr 10, 2014 @ 8:16 am
    Good work
  • ymunro Apr 10, 2014 @ 7:56 am
    I've always wanted to visit New Orleans and seeing the sights on a streetcar is definitely the way to go, what fun.
  • oscar1208 Apr 10, 2014 @ 6:28 am
    Excellent lens! Congrats. Thank you for sharing it.
  • jsr54 Apr 09, 2014 @ 11:24 pm
    I saw the streetcars and tracks last time I was in NOLA, but did not know the historical significance. Thanks and congrats on LOTD!
  • bobnolley Apr 09, 2014 @ 7:53 pm
    Congrats on your LOTD!

    A great lens on one of my favorite cities....
  • stajo82 Apr 09, 2014 @ 4:09 pm
    I love travelling by streetcars. When I was a little boy my father used to take me and my brother to the streetcar trips. It was fantastic and I remember this wery well...
  • Tracy1973 Apr 09, 2014 @ 3:56 pm
    So cool! The streetcars were not operating the last time I was in NOLA. Glad they are back!
  • StephenJParkin Apr 09, 2014 @ 3:35 pm
    We used to have them in many of the old English towns, but sadly they are all long gone! Great LOTD and long may the streetcars live!
  • campingman Apr 09, 2014 @ 2:48 pm
    Well written and well researched. The street cars in New Orleans are a much a staple of it's history as they are in San Francisco and San Diego. Well deserving lens for the Purple Star award and Lens of the day. Congratulations and cheers.
  • duende333 Apr 09, 2014 @ 2:37 pm
    Yo no he tenido el gusto de conocer un tranvía,pero me gustaría la verdad.Seria una grata experiencia.
  • DeniseMcGill Apr 09, 2014 @ 12:55 pm
    My only streetcar experience is in San Francisco in the 1970's (oops, dating myself again). But these sound like fun. Someday, I'll have to get down that way and try one out.
  • rauspitz Apr 09, 2014 @ 12:27 pm
    I grew up on the trolley cars of Philadelphia (the 34, the 36, etc) but I don't think any of them were as cool as the New Orleans variety. Super lens, congratulations on getting LotD!
  • grammieo Apr 09, 2014 @ 11:27 am
    We have streetcars in Toronto and I love riding the streetcars to the National Exhibition in the summer months. It's always interesting on the "cars".
  • arlen_haaz Apr 09, 2014 @ 10:43 am
    I used to live there and loved the streetcars!
  • Merrci Apr 09, 2014 @ 10:19 am
    Congratulations on Lens of the Day! How fun to read about these. You got some great photos too! Well done and very interesting lens.
  • Susan52 Apr 09, 2014 @ 9:57 am
    Back to say that we enjoyed seeing the streetcars when we were in New Orleans for a day last year, but unfortunately we didn't ride. Next trip, we certainly will ride! Congratulations on your Lens of the Day today!
  • d-artist Apr 09, 2014 @ 9:03 am
    Congratulations on LOTD! We rode the New Orleans streetcar...when I lived in San Francisco I used the Streetcars to get around...loved the sound and clanging of the bells.
  • esmonaco Apr 09, 2014 @ 4:55 am
    A nice history lesson and tour, I've never been on a streetcar, maybe someday. Congratulations on LOTD!!
  • Susan52 Sep 04, 2013 @ 11:38 am
    I'm not sure I've ever been around streetcars. Looking forward to seeing these on an upcoming trip!