In New Orleans, a streetcar revival

Thu Oct 25, 2012 5:38pm EDT
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By Corrie MacLaggan

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans, once crisscrossed by sprawling streetcar lines, is embracing anew the rumbling reminder of the city's storied and elegant past by restoring old lines and seeking to build new ones.

In January, a mile-long streetcar line connecting the touristy French Quarter to the city's Amtrak terminal is scheduled to open, becoming the fourth streetcar corridor in the city. Two more are proposed, the first anticipated to break ground in early 2014.

For a city where many aspects of daily life were forced to change following the destruction brought by Hurricane Katrina seven years ago, the new streetcars are a way to connect to history.

The more than 150-year-old line that sails down St. Charles Avenue is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world, according to the city. Revitalizing New Orleans' streetcar system has been a slow, arduous process; the city's two other existing lines were built in 1988 and 2004.

"New Orleans has not had an incredibly extensive network of streetcars for decades," said Rachel Heiligman, executive director of Ride New Orleans, an advocacy organization that has been pushing for more streetcars in the city.

"This is the first time in almost a decade we've seen an investment in public transit, so it's a very exciting time for New Orleans," she said.

As cities across the country explore ways to break gridlock or rejuvenate deadened commercial corridors, streetcars have become an attractive alternative to buses or subways for their affordability to build and maintain.

In 2013, inaugural streetcar lines are scheduled to launch in Atlanta; Dallas; Salt Lake City; Tucson, Ariz. and Washington, D.C. Cities considering or planning streetcar lines include Cincinnati, Ohio; El Paso, Texas; Honolulu; Kansas City, Mo.; Milwaukee; Minneapolis and Sacramento, Calif., according to the American Public Transit Association.   Continued...