Streetcar Rehab: RTA’s remarkable recovery post-Katrina

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) –The streetcars are an iconic part of our city, and it’s unimaginable to imagine New Orleans without them.  During Hurricane Katrina, the entire Canal St. line was wiped out.  Since then, the RTA (Regional Transit Authority) has seen an incredible recovery.

News with a Twist’s Kenny Lopez went to the streetcar barn on Willow St.

16 months prior to Hurricane Katrina, the RTA was excited about putting their red streetcars back on Canal Street, but when Katrina hit and the floodwaters rose, they lost them.

“It was like losing someone you really care for,”  Wil Mullet, RTA Superintendant of Rail & Traction Power, said.

All the electrical components are mounted underneath the floor body of the streetcars, so they didn’t stand a chance against the high floodwaters.

Mullet’s been with the RTA for 43 years and says Katrina threw them off-track, but not to the point that they couldn’t come back.  It wasn’t until 2008 that the Canal Street line was back and running.

“We know streetcars are iconic to New Orleans.  We never had any reservations that we wouldn’t come back, we just didn’t know how,”  Mullet said.

The cost to rebuild was going to cost $1-million per streetcar, and the total price tag was about $31 million.  Luckily, the green streetcars on the St. Charles Ave. line only suffered minor wind damage.

So in 2006, they towed all the damaged streetcars to the barn on Willow Street where all the maintenance and repairs take place.  The streetcars entered rehab.

“A lot has improved over the years for RTA.  Ten years after Katrina, our total fleet of cars is 66, and we’re gearing up to open our new Rampart Street streetcar line in 2016,”  Mullet said.

7.3 million passengers ride the streetcars annually.  The green streetcars on the St. Charles Ave. line are actually 92-years old.

Once the Rampart Street line is complete, there will be a total of six streetcar lines in New Orleans.

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