Shooting New Orleans’ Streetcar Survivors

New Orleans is a city of survivors.

For centuries, the people of this muggy metropolis have weathered floods, fires and whatever else Mother Nature launches at them. Perhaps nothing exemplifies that spirit of survival better than the St. Charles Line, the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world.

Everyday, 35 Perley A. Thomas streetcars built nearly a century ago hit the streets of New Orleans, moving locals and tourists alike from Carrollton, through the legendary Garden District, to downtown. Few cities on earth have embraced historic transit like New Orleans.

But it almost didn’t turn out this way. Starting in the 1920s, the New Orleans Public Service Inc. (NOPSI) began to abandon vast swaths of its 200-mile streetcar system. By 1929, the agency had abandoned nine different routes. Between 1930 and the onset of World War II, 13 more lines were ripped up. After a momentary pause during the war, the agency again started to abandon streetcar routes through the city, including the iconic Desire Line (made famous by the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire”). By 1964, only the 7-mile St. Charles Line survived.

The St. Charles Line and its beautiful olive green streetcars almost met the same fate as the rest of the system until a group of local citizens convinced NOPSI to save the line. In 1973, the St. Charles Line was designated a National Historic Landmark, serving as a catalyst for a streetcar revival that began in the 1980s under the new operator, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority.

In March 2018, I had the pleasure of seeing this amazing line for myself during a trip to New Orleans with my fiancée who was attending a work seminar nearby. The trip gave me the opportunity to work on an ongoing photography project about cities that still use historic streetcars and trolleys (Check out this Flickr album for a preview of other images I’ve shot for the project, including San Francisco’s fantastic F-Line).

After two sunny days of shooting in New Orleans (a nice break from the snowy mountains of Montana) I had amassed a dozen or so images for the project and a newfound love for New Orleans and its streetcar survivors.

 

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