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Thursday, November 4, 2010

10-11-04 PHOTOS: A Streetcar named RTA - Part 1: Red Cars

Before I begin I would like to reassure everyone that I am not trying to spin myself off into a private investigation blog and the next two photo essays were the result of a simple two day tourist trip to the somewhat soggy City of New Orleans. Yes, the Crescent City is on the rebound and after 5 years and a hell of a lot of bleach they almost have that mildew smell taken care off. In fact, after exporting a large segment of its poor population to cities like Houston, TX some might say this city is better than its been in decades.

As part of a conference exchange programme with my good friend I was offered both a free hotel room, two amazing free food and drink opportunities and a free sleeping accommodation on Amtrak's Crescent. For most people the combination of New Orleans and free drink would result in a severe loss of verticality if not outright hospital admission, however no amount of overindulgence was going to keep me from properly railfanning New Orleans' recently reconditioned streetcar system.

For those of you who are unaware of the Tennessee Williams play, New Orleans had and still has a pretty impressive streetcar network. While clearly much more impressive in the past, New Orleans has one surviving "heritage" line running mostly along St Charles Ave with original 1930's Percy Thomas green painted cars and two more modern lines, Canal St and Waterfront, using new built red cars. The Waterfront Line was built as a tourist attraction in the 1980's and runs between the French Market and the Convention Centre and the Canal St Line was re-built in 2004 serving both the original terminus at Cemeteries and a new branch to the City Park. Over the course of my 1 full day in New Orleans I took over 400 photos profiling all three lines and as these will take more than one week to process I am splitting up the set into two parts along the natural break point between the Red Car part of the System and the Green Car part.

Today we will be tackling the Red Car portion along with the miscalculation photos taken before I started riding the trolleys. You can find the entire set of photos covered in Part 1 right here.

So despite getting absolutely blitzed the night before I was up bright and early the next morning to help my friend return the rental car to the agency. Of course no trip to New Orleans would be complete without a visit to its newest tourist attraction, the Lower 9th Ward. While the scene of much devastation during the 2005 Hurricane, today most of it has been cleaned up and simply resembles something more akin to an abandoned company town with lots of streets and trees, but little else. However there were still plenty examples of water and wind damage.

You would wonder why anyone in their right mind would build anything of value where you need elabourate flood gates and pump stations to keep everything dry, but I guess people are pretty desperate to avoid that evil frozen water seen in more sensible parts of the country. Here we see the cut in the flood wall for the NS freight branch that runs over the road/rail Flordia Avenue Lift Bridge past one of the many pumping stations in the background.

New Orleans sees a healthy amount of freight traffic both for its local industry and intermodal traffic from its various ports. Here we are looking northbound through Oliver Junction on the former Southern RR NO&NE Dictrict with a Diverging Approach indication displayed on the tk2 dwarf signal. Amtrak's Crescent actually enters/exits Oliver Junction at the Darth Vader mast on the far left. In the distance we see that the 2x2 diamond crossing with the CSX Main Line is currently being occupied by a string of autoracks. Also visible at the crossing is what I believe to be the former L&N NE Tower.

Anyway, the rental car place was actually right on Canal St so I was able to directly board and outbound car at the Corzat stop. While waiting I caught #2003 heading inbound.

The major arterial roads in New Orleans take the form of boulevards with wide grass and tree lined medians. Therefore when restoring the Canal Line it was only necessary to re-lay the track and put up new wire poles instead of re-engineering the street for rail traffic. Here we see the transition between the downtown segment of Canal which uses concrete set rails and the outer section that has the rail covered by grass in the style of the St Charles Line.

Here we see #2013 at the Broad Street stop. Major stops on the Canal Line were built with small passenger shelters, but amenities are still sparse with no TVMs or ADA mini-highs.

At White Street we find a more typical stop that consists of nothing more than a concrete slab and a trash can. Behind the platform is one of the frequent trailing point turnbacks that allow for trolleys to short turn in case of a service disruption. BTW if you think the tracks look odd (or familiar) they are 5'2 1/2" Pennsylvania Trolley gauge

#2023 at the Carrollton Ave Junction with the City Park branch. Several blocks to the south Carrollton Ave hosts the western end of the St Charles Line.

 My car for this journey was #2002 here waiting at the Cemeteries Car Stop for the motorman to change ends.

Which he then proceeded to do.

The Red Cars were technically manufactured in house by the NO RTA...and then re-manufactured after the 2005 Hurricane flooded the Canal St car shoppes and ruined most of the propulsion equipment. Here you can see the interior of #2002 with wood seats and textured rubber flooring befitting classic vehicles of this type. You can also see how the seating pattern has been modified for an ADA lift and wheelchair seating. Due to what I suspect was the natural selection provided by the flood no ADA riders boarded any of my streetcars which instantly gives it a point up on the Rt 15 in Philly.

I said technically manufactured as the Brookville Equipment Corporation provided all of the major traction components including the trucks and control stand. The Red Cars actually have IGBT based AC traction and make the usual AC whine when taking off. In another hit to the classic atheistic the motorman's controller is of the modern T-type instead of the traditional handle and moreover power and braking is combined into the single controller instead of having a separate air brake system.

Back at the Carrollton Ave junction, the minority of trains destined to City Park must first have the operator iron the switch points into place and then obtain a right turn signal from the traffic light before setting off.

The City Park branch is actually brand new and not a restoration of any previous trolley service. It was built in the innermost travel lanes of Carrollton Ave.

Car #2012 has its poles changed at City Park. As you can see I wasn't the only tourist out enjoying the streetcars.

Here you can see one of the Brookville supplied trucks that look more at home under a modern PCC or LRV car than a classic looking streetcar. These trucks have magnetic track brakes, resilient wheels, yaw dampers and coil spring suspension.

The City Park terminal features a very brief single track segment provided with spring switches at each end. Movement in and out of this segment are governed by simple transit signals at each end.

Back on the main line here my car passes #2013 at the Clark St turnback.

The Red Car fleet is stored at maintained in a brand new car barn located behind the RTA Headquarters on Canal St. Cars enter and exit the yard via a junction at Gayoso St.

Passing car #2008.

The downtown concrete trackway has also become a popular route for Cyclists seen here at the Villere St stop.

The mantra of several traction companies back in the day was "Always a Car in Sight" well we have that going on here on the Canal Street Line with a pairs of inbound and outbound cars following close to eachother. Of course this is scheduled and not in any caused by bunching.

Found this strange stub junction at Basin Street. Does anyone know what the plan for this is?

Alighting from #2012 I caught outbound car #2014 at Decatur St.

And #2003 following my car inbound.

Despite the new AC traction these cars use pole collectors with soft carbon shoes.

The downtown terminus has three tracks formed from a triplet of equilateral turnouts.

The operator of #2013 returns to his car ready for another outbound trip.

Now the Waterfront Line connects with the Canal St Line at the Canal St station. The tracks between here and the St Charles Line were built in 1997 so that the fleet of 7 new Red Cars could reach the only car barn in existence at the time on Carrollton Ave.

Here we see a facing point turnout at the Canal St stop. Placed on the track are stop placards showing the motorman where to stop for the station and where to make a point inspection stop. Ties on the waterfront line are made from a rubber composite material.

Cars on the Waterfront Line pool are numbered in the 400 series. Here we see #459 approaching the Canal St Station southbound. Unlike the other lines this one uses tie an ballast construction.

The 400 series cars are virtually identical to the 2002 series, however in Waterfront operation the operator's stands are left uncovered due to the frequent end changes. The speedometer goes up to 40mph.

The control pad for the farebox seems unnecessarily complicated. :-\

Changing ends at the French Market on car #460. All of the stations on the Waterfront are numbered because the line was built with the assumption that clueless tourists would get lost just relying on the station names. I guess people need to order transit like they order their value meals.

It is worth pointing out that the stops on the Waterfront Line have considerably more invested in them than the other two lines with full shelters and benches. Here we see stop #5, Bienville St. Note the third track to the right. That is a freight line that runs along the shore of the Mississippi River serving various industries. At night some fairly impressive trains can turn up on it. Also note the flood gates which at times of high water will cut off the northern end of the line forcing trolleys to short turn using the Canal turnback...assuming service is running at all.

#460 passes #459 at Bienville. The Waterfront Line is typically worked by two streetcars that pass eachother at this point.

The Riverwalk Marketplace is a large mall located on the river just north of the cruise ship terminals. 66 people were injured when an out of control bulk cargo slip slammed into it in 1996.

The Waterfront Line terminates at the John Churchill Chase station located in a trench between the convention center on the left, and the cruise terminal on the right. I was on my way to meet my friend at the Convention Centre, however soon discovered that they had closed all direct access between the Center and the trolley line. This forced me to walk all the way back up to stop #8 and then all the way back down to the proper convention hall, but at least this enabled me to snag a photo of the two cantilever Crescent City Connection bridges and the 101,000 ton Carnival Triumph docked at the cruise terminal.

Well that's it for now. Tune in next week as we head over to the St Charles Line and its historic fleet of Green Cars.

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