Route 47 first car of the morning heads to the Cemeteries.
Early Morning Route 47
Early morning outbound on Route 47, the Canal Streetcar to the Cemeteries Terminal. ‘Twas a foggy morning, as NORTA 2021 heads up Canal. The car’s following the standard route out of the barn down the street at Canal and N. White Streets. It’s passing through Hennessey Street here, right by Blue Dot Donuts. The Canal cars exit the barn (next to Warren Easton High), turn right, heading outbound to Cemeteries. They then start a full run to the river.
the Canal line originally operated from Canal Station at N. White Street, down to the river. After two months in the summer of 1861, the New Orleans City Railroad Company expanded the route, up to Metaire Road/City Park Avenue. This enabled riders to easily get up to the cemeteries at that end of the street. Mid-City as we know it now didn’t exist. So, the trip past the streetcar barn moved fast. People got down to Cypress Grove, Greenwood, the three St. Patrick’s cemeteries, as well as several cemeteries owned by Jewish congretations.
When the streetcars reached the CBD, they connected with other lines, such as Esplanade, St. Claude, and the Carrollton (later St. Charles) line.
Canal Streetcar branches
For years, the Canal line serviced just stops on Canal Street. The sort-of exception to this was the years of “belt” service, where Canal ran in one direction and the Esplanade line in the other. Still, the line was just a straight shot up and down the city’s high street. In 2004, the line returned with not only the streetcars operating on Canal, but also on N. Carrollton Avenue. The “Carrollton Spur” runs from the river, but then makes a right-turn onto N. Carrollton Avenue in Mid-City. NOPSI and NORTA serviced this part of Carrollton Avenue with buses, since there were so many railroad tracks crossing the street. By the time of the return of the Canal line, it was easy to run the Von Dullen cars out to City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Mystic Canal Street
The fog offers such visual impressions! Fantastic writing prompts to let your imagination run wild.
AMA on streetcars! If I don’t have an answer, I’ll likely work to find it.
Bywater streetcar complications involve the Norfolk Southern Railroad.
NOPSI 1005, ca. 1935. Franck Studios via HNOC
St. Claude Line Bywater streetcars
NOPSI 1005, running on the St. Claude Avenue line, approximately 1935 (Franck Studios photo via HNOC). The car is heading outbound from N. Rampart Street. The 1000-series were the pinnacle of engineering development for the arch roof streetcars. The 1000s kept the original Perley A. Thomas design, with additions under the carriage. While the 400, 800, and 900s operated with two motors, the 1000s had four, one for each set of wheels.
Railroad versus Streetcar
Norfolk Southern train crossing the Industrial Canal, 13-Dec-2019, via Commons user Bl20gh114
St. Claude Avenue and Press Street, in the Upper Ninth Ward, is one of the few locations where streetcars and railroad equipment meet at grade. While the railroads own the Riverfront, the streetcar line operates in parallel to the New Orleans Public Belt RR tracks. The “Back Belt,” originally constructed for the NO&NE and Frisco by the New Orleans Terminal Company, includes a number of automobile underpasses. Once the Back Belt hits Orleans Parish, there are no grade crossings until Slidell.
After the consolidation of passenger rail into Union Passenger Terminal, those trains operated away from automobiles. The tracks run more-or-less parallel to the Pontchartrain Expressway. They merge into the Back Belt just past Greenwood Cemetery.
NOPSI 1371, a trackless trolley, inbound over the Industrial Canal at St. Claude Avenue, approaching Press Street, ca. 1950. City photo.
So, the most significant point of contention between railroad and streetcar was St. Claude and Press. NO&NE/Southern connected to the Public Belt from their Gentilly yard via tracks at Press Street. NOPSI streetcars crossed the train tracks there with few problems for decades. The overhead catenary presented no issues for the railroad. This continued after NOPSI discontinued the 1000-series streetcars in 1949. They scrapped those beauties, replacing them with trackless trolleys. The electric buses received power through the catenary, like the streetcars. They ran across Press, across the Industrial Canal, all the way down to the sugar refinery.NOPSI converted St. Claude from trackless trolleys to diesel buses in 1964. They cut down the overhead wires.
TTGX “tri-level” auto carrier, on the Norfolk Southern Back Belt, 22-Sep-2022.
While streetcars never left New Orleans, NOPSI reduced operations down to the St. Charles line in 1964. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority expanded streetcar service, introducing the Riverfront line in 1988. The success of Riverfront led to returning streetcars to the Canal line in 2004. Economic stimulus money from the federal government offered an opportunity to further expand streetcars in 2010. NORTA constructed a partial return of the St. Claude line. The line operates from Canal Street, along N. Rampart, then St. Claude, to Elysian Fields.
The line stops at Elysian Fields because NORTA and Norfolk Southern can’t come to terms on running the overhead wires over Press and St. Claude. Since the overhead departed almost sixty years ago, it’s on NORTA to change the status quo. The railroad argues that modern rolling stock, such as tri-level auto carriers, are too high for streetcar wires. NORTA disputes this, and they’re right. Still, Norfolk Southern continues to oppose restoring a grade crossing at this intersection.
Continuing the New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad Story
I spoke to the Friends of the Cabildo Tour Guides at their monthly meeting this past Monday. They had me in to discuss the origins of the NO&CRR (New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad), which evolved into the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. I’ll be presenting the talk via blog posts here. We discussed the origins of the line, now we move to the transition to mules from steam power.
While steam power made sense to the management of the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad, residents along the Carrollton Line (which later became the St. Charles Avenue Line) grew unhappy. Steam trains are noisy and smokey. As New Orleans annexed what is now the Garden District, more people built fine houses close to the line.City officials pressured the railroad to abandon steam engines. Mules NO&CRR began in the 1840s.
Mules on the line
Naiads and Napoleon, 1860. Lilienthal photo, halfway point for Mules NO&CRR
Theodore Lilienthal photo of Naiads and Napoleon Avenues, 1860. The railroad built their facilities for the Carrollton line here. The intersection was more-or-less half-way between the CBD and the city of Carrollton.
St. Charles and Napoleon Avenues in 1948. Compare the difference with 1860.
Section from the Robinson Atlas, 1883, showing streetcar tracks around St. Charles and Napoleon Avenues. The half-way facilities for the railroad expanded over the twenty years since the Lilienthal photo. The black dot on St. Charles is a turntable. If you’ve been to San Francisco, you’ve seen this type of turntable. Here, the driver leads the mule out of the barn, placing the car on the turntable. He then walked the mule around, lining up with the track on the street, and off they went.
The building on the right housed the streetcars and the mules. Superior Seafood and Fat Harry’s stand there now. The buildings on the left (lake) side of St. Charles are now the Lower School for the Academy of the Sacred Heart.
Downtown on the line
The corner of St. Charles and Canal Streets in 1850. Notice there are NO streetcar tracks! That’s because the Carrollton line continued to use Baronne Street. While the steam trains terminated at Poydras and Baronne, the streetcars went all the way to Canal Street. The drivers turned around on a turntable on Baronne.
So, there were no streetcars yet on either St. Charles or Canal. The Canal line opened in 1861. The lighter-colored building in the background of this illustration is the first incarnation of the St. Charles Hotel. This building burned down in 1851. The second incarnation opened in 1853.
This 1856 map shows downtown New Orleans (CBD) in 1856. The streetcars came down Naiads to Tivoli Circle. Like the modern line, they curved around to Delord Street, now Howard Avenue. Unlike the modern line, the Carrollton line went up to Baronne, then turned right. Baronne Street had two tracks with a turntable to change direction.
The railroad purchased and operated “Bob-Tail” streetcars from the Stephenson Car Company, from the 1850s until the line electrified in 1893. The driver attached the mule to the right side of the car in this photograph. The single-truck design made for a less-than-smooth ride. Still, the cars were as good as it got for the time.
While the bob-tails did most of the work on the line, the railroad experimented with alternatives. After the Southern Rebellion, PGT Beauregard returned to New Orleans. The railroad employed him as president in the 1870s. Being an engineer, Beauregard entertained a number of different ideas for streetcars. This car used canisters of ammonia gas to propel the car. This drawing is by Alfred Waud. It includes a small drawing of a white woman, and another of a black woman, along with Gus.
The Lamm Thermo-Specific locomotive operated on the line in 1874. The engine’s “fireless” design enabled quiet operation. So, the engine carried a large bottle/canister containing compressed air, steam. The engineer released the steam and the engine moved forward. The Lamm engines pulled 1-2 bobtail cars. The railroad discontinued operations of the Lamms, because of having tor re-charge the canisters.
I spoke to the Friends of the Cabildo Tour Guides at their monthly meeting this past Monday. They had me in to discuss the origins of the NO&CRR (New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad), which evolved into the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. I’ll be presenting the talk via blog posts here. We’re starting at the beginning.
If you didn’t know how to get ahold of me online, here you go. @nolahistoryguy on all social media, and there’s my email. Please keep in mind, I may not see your question as the high priority you do!
The image you see is of Canal and Rampart, 1915ish. I use it on my business cards.
Tour Guide Talking Points
These are important to the guide-on-the-street. While the FOC guides are very smart people, it’s important for me to give them a quick gist of the subject they can use for answering questions.
NO&CRR was founded in 1833 and the railroad began operations in 1835
The railroad route (and later streetcar line) was named “Carrollton,” not St. Charles.
It’s the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the United States. While NYC and Philly had streetcar operations before New Orleans, St. Charles still runs.
Connected Downtown to the City of Carrollton
First streetcar line to electrify
The company operated the single-truck Ford, Bacon & Davis electric cars
Upgraded to double-truck arch roof cars in 1915
Belt service from 1900-1950
Current route dates to 1951
Only streetcar line in New Orleans from 1964 to 2004
Current line is approximately 13.2 miles in length
We’ll get into the details of these points in this series.
Building railroads was a new thing in the 1830s. Businessmen in New Orleans recognized this. A group planning a navigation canal from Faubourg Marigny to Milneburg at the lake opted for a railroad line (the Pontchartrain RR) instead. Others looked at the City of Carrollton as an opportunity.
Brief news article about a streetcar vs train accident in The Daily Picayune, 11-May-1912.
Passenger train No. 339, of the Illinois Central, crashed into the Royal Blue car at Washington Avenue, at 9 o’clock last night and knocked it into splinters. The car was dragged about 125 feet and part of it was on the front of the engine. The latter was derailed.
Howard Heldenfelder, of 136 S. Olympia, employed at the Krauss Store, was the only passenger in the streetcar. He sustained injuries about the chest and was badly shaken up. Jules Mainbaum, the motorman, was thrown from the platform, into a canal. He was fished out by the conductor, Thomas Burke. The motorman was injured about the head. He and Heldenfelder were taken to the hospital, where their injuries were found not very serious.
Interesting unpack here! A quick online search didn’t immediately turn up the route of IC train 339. It was either coming or going to Union Station, on Rampart Street. This was the “old” station, built in 1892. The city demolished it to make way for Union Passenger Terminal, in 1954.
A “Royal Blue car” ran on the Napoleon Avenue line. New Orleans Railway and Light Company (NORwy&Lt) operated streetcars in the city in 1912. The Napoleon line got the nickname “Royal Blue” because the roll board (the rolling sign indicating the streetcar’s route) was enclosed in blue glass. Since the streetcar was smashed into splinters, it likely was an all-wood Brill double-truck.
The motorman ended up in the New Basin Canal. This part of the canal is now part of the Palmetto canal system, that feeds into the 17th Street Canal and its pumping station near Metairie Road. Good thing the conductor could fish him out!
And then there’s the passenger, Mr. Heldenfelder. he lived at 136 S. Olympia. That’s across the street from St. Dominic School (now Christian Brothers School). To get to work at Krauss, he likely took the Canal line from Mid-City down to Basin Street.
Early morning outbound and inbound on the Canal Street Line, 2-April-2022. The first streetcar, outbound, is actually the second car out of the barn. The Canal line cars leave the barn at Canal and S. White Streets, turn lakebound, and travel to the Cemeteries terminal. The first streetcar of the morning already did this when I pulled up at Blue Dot Donuts. That car is the second one in the video. The operator pulled out, headed to Cemeteries, and now is doing a full inbound run. You can see the “01” on the right-side rollboard on this second car, 2023. That indicates it was the first one on the line this morning.
Canal line operations
NORTA 2023, inbound on Canal Street, 2-April-2022
There’s a couple of reasons NORTA operates Canal in this mode. First, it’s easier to come out of the barn and make a simple right turn. The car barn is behind the A. Phillip Randolph bus facility, the big building you see on Canal Street. This used to be the location of the original New Orleans City Railroad barn. That building, parts of which were from the 1860s, was demolished in the 90s. When streetcars returned in 2004, NORTA built a new streetcar barn. It’s big enough to hold all the red and green streetcars. So, Carrollton Station, up on Willow Street, is just a maintenance facility. The 2000-series Von Dullen streetcars always operated from this barn. The Rail Department performs minor repairs on the cars on Canal. The streetcars return Uptown for major repairs, maintenance, painting, etc.
The second reason the streetcars go up to Cemeteries first is that it gives the operator a chance to shake the car down before they go to work. If there’s a problem, they can turn around and go back to the barn.
NORTA operates a limited schedule this weekend, because of the NCAA Final Four.