The Last Streetcar on Canal (for forty years)
NOPSI 972, coming out of the barn on Canal Street for the last time. (Courtesy Tulane LaRC)
Which “Last Streetcar?”
The last day of regular service on the old Canal line was May 30, 1964. There are a number of interpretations as to which run was the “last” streetcar. Irby Aucoin’s famous photo from the night before is arguably the last “revenue” run. This car, 972, the next morning, was the last streetcar on the two-track main on Canal. That wasn’t a “regular” run, however. NOPSI started cutting down the overhead wire right behind 972. There were slowdowns to the point where that last trip took hours instead of minutes. Still, that banner on the side was big news, as 972 switched off of the Canal main track. When the car turned onto the third track that makes the turn to St. Charles Avenue, Canal service was gone.
When 972 turned onto St. Charles that morning in 1964, plans that were long-made came to completion. NOPSI kept 35 of the arch roof streetcars of the 900-series for operations on the St. Charles line. They earned the nickname “Charlie cars.” Some of the remaining 800- and 900-series cars were donated/sold to museums and private collectors. The rest were unceremoniously cut in half and scrapped. NOPSI had no interest in fighting with the so-called “streetcar activists” that appeared on the scene after the announcement that Canal would be discontinued. So, they cut down the wires, cut up the streetcars, and deployed a fleet of green, air-conditioned, modern Flixible buses.
NOPSI promised the people of Lakeview and Lakeshore “express” bus service that would enable them to get on a bus within blocks of their homes, then ride into the CBD in air-conditioning. No transfer at the foot of Canal Street, to ride a streetcar in sorry shape. No crowds bunched together in the heat, humidity, and rain of the spring and summer. Nothing the uptown folks could do or say would convince the people who actually used the Canal line at the time to change their minds.
Bus ridership changed dramatically during the forty years of no streetcars on Canal. When the red Von Dullen cars took to the street in 2004, people were ready for a ride from City Park Avenue into town. Air conditioning doesn’t hurt, either.
Check out my book, New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, or check out our podcast on “Riding the Belt.”
Terminal Station fades into history
The Southerner was the last train to leave Terminal Station on Canal Street. (courtesy Tulane’s LaRC)
Terminal Station on Canal Street
Tulane’s Louisiana Resource Collection shared some important photos in Louisiana railroad history for April 16. The first photo is of Southern Railroad’s Train #48, better known as “The Southerner.” The Southerner was a “limited” train that ran from New Orleans to New York City. The train began operation in 1941, using EMD E6 engines and brand=new, corrugated-sided cars from Pullman-Standard.
The photo above shows the last Southerner leaving Terminal Station, on April 16, 1954. The Illinois Central and Kansas City Southern railroads had already moved their operations to Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola. When The Southerner departed on April 16th, Southern Railroad’s inbound trains were re-routed to their new home on Loyola Avenue.
The Southerner, on its way to New York (Wikimedia Commons)
Terminal Station was built on Canal Street in 1908. It serviced the Southern and Gulf, Mobile and Ohio railroads. So, in the black-and-white photo above, the photographer stands on the Basin Street neutral ground, behind the stations’s platforms. Krauss Department Store is visible on the right.
“The Pelican” backing into Union Passenger Terminal, April 16, 1954 (courtesy Tulane’s LaRC)
The first Southern Railroad train to enter Union Passenger Terminal was “The Pelican.” The Pelican also ran from New Orleans to NYC, but its consist was an luxury affair. It used sleeper cars owned by Pullman-Standard. There were no coach cars. The tracks coming into UPT include a “wye” track. While the incoming trains came in engine-first, they turned around on the wye. Then the engines backed into the platforms.
The Pelican at Union Passenger Terminal, April 16, 1954 (courtesy Tulane’s LaRC)
The Mayor of New Orleans in the 1950s was deLessepps Story Morrison. He was one of the biggest proponents of a single train station for the city. New Orleans had five stations around the city. Union Passenger Terminal remains in use by Amtrak and the Greyhound Bus company today.
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Streetcar Belt Service
I was truly surprised when I mentioned “riding the belt” at my “Second Thursday” lecture for the Friends of the Cabildo earlier this month, and nobody knew the term. Now, I’m 58, and the St. Charles/Tulane belt service ended in 1950, but there have always been folks older than me who remember this.
Streetcar Belt Service for Seven Cents
NOPSI 434 on the St. Charles Belt, 1947 (courtesy George Friedman)
Belt service was practical. The idea was for streetcars to run in a loop. Cars on one line would go in one direction, cars on the other line in the opposite direction. So, from 1900 to 1950, the St. Charles line went outbound. Starting at Canal and Rampart:
- Inbound (towards the river) on Canal
- Right turn onto St. Charles Avenue
- Outbound (towards uptown) on St. Charles
- Right turn onto S. Carrollton
- Outbound (heading towards Mid-City) on S. Carrollton
- Right turn on Tulane Avenue
- Inbound (towards the CBD) on Tulane
- Tulane to Elk Place
- Elk Place to Canal
- Back at Canal and Rampart
The cars whose roll boards said TULANE ran this in reverse, Elk to Tulane to S. Carrollton. Then, left turn onto St. Charles, inbound to Lee Circle. Curve around Lee Circle to Howard, then right turn on Carondelet (since St. Charles between Canal and Lee Circle is one way the other way). Left turn at Carondelet and Canal to Rampart.
NOPSI 817 on the Tulane Belt at the New Basin Canal Bridge (courtesy George Friedman)
Equipment on the St. Charles/Tulane belt was Brill double-trucks until 1915, then 400-series arch roof cars. In 1923, 800-900 series arch roofs also ran on these lines.
NOPSI 1182 trackless trolley at Canal Station (courtesy Streetcar Mike)
Belt service was discontinued in 1950, when the New Basin Canal was filled in, forcing changes in roads and traffic patterns. Tulane line converted to trackless trolleys in 1950. St. Charles was re-configured to its present-day route.
“Palace” Car on a test run on the Esplanade Belt, 1911. (courtesy NOPL)
Riding the belt also was a thing on the downtown side of Canal, from 1903 to 1931. The Canal and Esplanade lines ran streetcar belt service as follows:
- Outbound on Canal Street from N. Rampart
- Canal Street to City Park Avenue
- Right turn on City Park Avenue to the bayou bridge.
- Cross the bayou, then inbound on Esplanade Avenue
- Right turn from Esplanade onto N. Rampart
- Left turn onto Canal Street from N. Rampart
- Inbound on Canal to Liberty Place
- Loop around Liberty Place
- Outbound on Canal to N. Rampart
- Inbound at Canal and N. Rampart to Liberty Place
- Loop around Liberty Place
- Outbound on Canal to N. Rampart
- Right turn onto N. Rampart
- Left turn onto Esplanade
- Outbound on Esplanade to the bayou
- Cross Bayou St. John to City Park Avenue
- Right turn on City Park Avenue
- City Park Avenue inbound to Canal Street
- Left turn on Canal Street
- Inbound on Canal to Rampart.
Equipment on the Canal/Esplanade belts was Brill double-trucks until 1915, then American Car Company “Palace” cars.
Streetcar belt service on Canal/Esplanade was discontinued in 1931. After the “beautification program” of 1930, The Esplanade line was converted to bus service.
Thanks to George Friedman and Streetcar Mike Strauch!
Krauss and the Union Passenger Terminal New Orleans
Union Passenger Terminal, New Orleans, 2016
The Union Passenger Terminal
The Union Passenger Terminal (UPT) is New Orleans’ train station. Constructed in 1952, it replaced five passenger terminals located at various points in the city. UPT has a direct connection to Krauss Department Store, in that one of the stations it replaced was Terminal Station, located at Canal and Basin Streets. Terminal Station was right next to Krauss from 1908 to 1954. When UPT was completed, the city demolished Terminal Station. Canal Street shoppers never fully realized just how big Krauss Department Store was, because Terminal Station obscured the store’s depth.
Terminal Station was still nine years away when Leon Fellman bought the buildings in the 1200 block of Canal Street in 1899, and five years away when Krauss opened in 1903. The station had a wonderful symbiotic relationship with the store for all those years. You forgot something for your trip to New Orleans, and there was this department store with absolutely everything right next door when you got off the train! The concierges and staffs at the downtown hotels also knew this, and regularly steered guests to Krauss for those last-minute essentials and other purchases.
Visitors to the City
There is so much more to the story of UPT, and we’ll go more in-depth on that at some point. When the landscape of even a few blocks changes, like the area around Krauss after Terminal Station vanished, it’s important to make the connections. Krauss had the next-door neighbor connection to the Southern Railway and Gulf, Mobile and Ohio, both of which came into the station on Basin Street. Passengers coming to Canal Street from Union Station on Howard Avenue came to S. Rampart and Canal, just a block from Krauss. The buyers at Krauss knew this, and made sure the visitors saw enticing goods as they passed by.
A New Orleans Monorail just like Disney
Concept sketches of a monorail system for New Orleans, 1960
I came across the New Orleans Monorail Project back in 2004, when I was doing research for my Canal Streetcar book. The concept was to connect the Central Business District with Moisant International Airport (MSY – now Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport). When Walt Disney debuted the Disneyland Monorail System in 1959, a number of cities investigated the feasibility of monorails in their backyards. The difference between fantasy and reality set in quickly, however, as studies showed the difficulty of building overhead rail in established neighborhoods. Disney didn’t have to contend with the numerous complications of urban mass transit. All Walt had to do was draw lines on a blueprint, and his people made magic.
City Hall Studies the idea
The monorail project never became reality, although City Hall commissioned a study, by a consulting engineer, Col. S. H. Bingham (ret), of New York. Like ambitious projects of this sort, no doubt the politicians weighed the obstacles and cost and decided it wasn’t feasible. In the long run, though, this was the sort of project that should have been taken on. Like the Louisiana Superdome project, ten years or so later, there are big payoffs. The Dome was paid off by the city’s hotel-motel tax. Had the mayor and council chosen, they could have found a way to finance a monorail that would likely still be in operation today.
Streetcars to the Airport
NORTA 2011, a Von Dullen streetcar, operating on Canal Street in Mid City
So, the city never connected the CBD and the airport via overhead rail. That didn’t stop the dreamers. When the Earhart Expressway was constructed, one of the plans was to continue the road further west. The existing expressway comes to an end at Hickory Street in Harahan. There were plans laid out to keep going, all the way to the airport. When the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA) re-constructed the Canal streetcar line in 2003-2004, the notion of streetcars to the airport came up. Elmer Von Dullen, then-manager of NORTA’s Rail Department, designed the 2000-series streetcars used on Canal with a maximum speed of over 40mph. You’ll never see a streetcar on Canal go that fast! The idea was that the 2000-series would be able to handle the challenge of going out to the airport.
Alas, that project also never came to pass. Those of us who go to MSY regularly can still dream.
Sully illustration from 1836 of Faubourg Marigny
Marigny to Milneburg
From 1836, an illustration by G. W. Sully of the riverfront in Faubourg Marigny. You can see the station for the Pontchartrain Railroad on the left side of the illustration. The railroad was chartered in 1830, and began operations in 1831, so this was just five years into its existence. The purpose of the Pontchartrain Railroad was to connect the city, specifically, Faubourg Marigny, Faubourg Treme, and the French Quarter. Alexander Milne developed the area at what is now Elysian Fields Avenue and the lake into a port district, which became known as Milneburg. In addition to coming up the Mississippi River, much of the city’s ocean-going ship traffic came to New Orleans from the Gulf of Mexico, through the Chef Menteur Pass or the Rigolets Pass, into Lake Pontchartrain. Once in the lake, the larger ships were unable to go down Bayou St. John and the Carondelet Canal. Milneburg made it easier for the ships, since all they had to do was dock on the lakefront.
New Orleans’ First Railroad
The only catch was that the city was five miles away! The solution was simple, though, build a railroad. The planning/discussions for the railroad began in 1828. The first train, pulled by horses, left the station on April 14, 1831. Steam locomotives took over for animal power in June of 1832. This connection was a major path for commerce and goods up to the Civil War. After the war, as rail service to New Orleans began to expand, the Pontchartrain Railroad was acquired by larger rail concerns.
Sail to Steam
Notice that, in this illustration, the vessels are all powered by sail. That would change dramatically, as larger ships were constructed with steam engines and side paddlewheels, to speed up the journey from New Orleans to Havana, and various ports in along the American coast and Europe. These heavier ships were unable to use the passes into Lake Pontchartrain. This cut back on the shipping traffic docking at Milneburg, and the railroad no longer transported the goods it once did. Like many port areas, Milneburg became more of a recreational area than commercial, and the railroad then began to carry more passengers than goods. In the 1830s, though, it was all about commerce.