NEW ORLEANS – The hurricane-battered St. Charles Avenue streetcar line is inching closer to full operation.
Test runs of the iconic green early 20th century cars began last week as officials with New Orleans' Regional Transit Authority worked toward a goal of restoring streetcar service by month's end along the downtown half of the St. Charles Avenue line.
The RTA hopes to reopen the historic line between Canal Street and Napoleon Avenue by Nov. 1 and restore full service to its terminus on Carrollton Avenue in the first quarter of 2008.
"We don't have an exact date yet," RTA spokeswoman Rosalind Blanco Cook said. "And we're not going to put one out just yet because we don't want to disappoint everyone."
For more than a year, the RTA has been stringing a new and improved network of overhead wires and cables that were torn apart by high winds and falling tree limbs.
The 35 streetcars used on St. Charles Avenue survived Katrina because they were stored on high ground inside the RTA's Willow Street site. The faded green cars are being used on the Canal and Riverfront lines to temporarily replace the newer, red street cars that were stored on lower ground and destroyed in the flood.
While testing is under way, the RTA is hiring — and in some cases rehiring — streetcar operators for the St. Charles Avenue line, Cook said. With ridership and its transit fleet reduced to a fraction of the prestorm level, the RTA was forced to lay off dozens of bus and street operators in the months after the hurricane.
The streetcar line, one of New Orleans' signature attractions, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A limited section of the line, from Canal Street to Lee Circle, has been operating since December.