Saturday, January 10, 2015

St. Charles Streetcar

This says it all about New Orleans, I think: on the left, drinking, eating, and jazz; on the right, a religious shrine, and by implication, history, art, and culture.  Something for everyone! 

But since we're all railfans, let's take a few rides on the historic St. Charles line, still entirely served by Perley-Thomas cars built in 1924.  We stayed in a hotel on St. Charles near Canal, and all night long, if I was awake, I could hear traction motors winding up on the street outside our window.  Almost like Paradise.

The downtown end of the line operates in the street, with dense traffic.  We twice got stuck behind vehicles (a truck and a taxi) illegally blocking the line.  Watching the motorman deal with the stresses of this operation was a never-ending entertainment.

West of Lee Circle, however, the line is in a parkway.  But local people use it for jogging, hiking, bicycling, and walking their dogs all the time.  So there's a clearly beaten path right down the middle of both tracks all the way.  And the motormen are constantly clanging the gong to try to persuade them to scram.

Here's the motorman's position.  On one of our trips, the motorman had decided to get a sandwich at a Subway across the street, so he just left the car and walked away, leaving the reverse key in the controller.  So we wait.  I pointed out to my wife that there was nothing (except the other passengers) to keep me from running the car back into the city.

I also noticed that many of the motormen don't seem to care whether wheels are spinning or not, they just notch up to full parallel.  At one point, we seemed to be spinning our wheels for about two blocks.

 Cars are usually full.  Service runs round the clock, and during the day is very frequent.   You never have to wait very long.

Let's pay a visit to the historic Carrollton Shops.   Last time I was here, the foreman graciously allowed me in to take pictures of the single-trucker and other older cars, but this time no one ever appeared.  So I stayed outside and took pictures in through the open doors.


 This pile of traction motors caught my eye.

Here's the 972!

 Notice that the special work is designed so the cars roll through on their flanges.  It makes for a nice smooth ride. 

And at Lee Circle, the hub of the line, Gen. Robert E. Lee on his lofty pedestal looks down as we prepare to board for a ride back to Canal St.

Next time we'll look at the other lines, and some miscellaneous rail-oriented places in central New Orleans.


Tony Gura said...

Even though I work in San Francisco and the California Street Cable Car passes in front of my office building, the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar line is the best streetcar line I have had the opportunity to ride. It was, if I remember correctly, the second streetcar line to have been built in the world after only the New York & Harlem, which eventually became part of the New York Central, and will turn 180 years old later this year. At times when you are riding the only way to tell you are in the 21st Century rather than the early 20th is the age of the cars on the street and some of the stately mansions appear to have changed little in the last 160 years.

My guess the pile of traction motors piled up in the Carrollton Shop is the original motors from the replica cars used on Canal Street, which are painted red, that were rendered unusable by the flooding that resulted from Hurricane Katrina. Thankfully the Perley Thomas cars survived unscathed and they were used on Canal Street until the cars could be rebuilt with new motors but buses had to be used simultaneously to meet ADA requirements since the Green cars are exempted.

Tony Gura

Anonymous said...

Avisit to New Orleans is a big want on my to do list. The St charles Line is wonderful.

And the canal Line is almost the only place that street cars were replaced by buses and then street cars rather than LRVs came back on the line.

Did you take a riverboat ride?

Ted Miles
2015 IRM Member

Bruce Duensing said...

I rode the Canal line many years ago and as a sensory experience,it rivaled the El. Open windows, the grinding of the motors, the screech of turns...bell ringing.
In comparison I rode the new El cars that are hermetically sealed when I was in town. No conductors, robots calling out stops.No breeze.
It was less enjoyable.

Randall Hicks said...

Ted: We didn't take the riverboat tour this time, as it was rather windy and cold, but it is certainly a fun thing to do during warmer weather. We noticed that the old cars don't have heat of any sort, and some of the motormen on the St. Charles line were dressed like arctic explorers.

Anonymous said...

The New Orleans car at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum has 2 heaters, one at each motormen's position. I suspect that the heaters may hve been removed when the cars were "modernized".