NEW ORLEANS – The St. Charles streetcar line — the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world — may be rumbling along at least a short strip of its namesake avenue by the end of the year for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.
Workers are repairing the system that supports the overhead electrical lines that power the streetcars.
"We're hoping that if things go smoothly we'll have cars running along the stretch of St. Charles from Canal Street to Lee Circle," said Rosalind Blanco Cook, Regional Transit Authority spokeswoman. "The rest of the line won't be ready before the end of 2007."
That initial stretch is only nine blocks long.
The old green streetcars have been carrying passengers through the streets of New Orleans since 1835, but since Hurricane Katrina wrecked the city Aug. 29, 2005, they have been running only on the Canal Street and Riverfront lines.
All but one of the new red streetcars that ran on the Canal Street and Riverfront lines before Katrina were wiped out by flooding at a storage barn.
Unlike the St. Charles cars that are only cooled by lowering the large windows along the side, the new cars are operated by computer and are air-conditioned and handicapped accessible. It took 142 days to build each car, said Elmer von Dullen, who supervised their construction for the RTA.
The RTA resumed collecting the $1.25 basic fare on buses and streetcars in August for the first times since Hurricane Katrina. The fare had been suspended since the scaled-down system was started in October.
Currently, the RTA employs about 700 workers and operates 28 bus routes, the two streetcar lines and a door-to-door service for disabled riders. Before the storm, it had 1,357 employees and ran 46 bus routes and three streetcar routes.
The agency had already budgeted money to rework the St. Charles power system before the hurricane, Cook said.
"The price has risen somewhat, and there is more to do now," she said. "And we would not have shut down the whole system; we'd have done it on a block by block basis."