Historic streetcar rolls through New Orleans again

By Mary Milliken
Tuesday, December 19, 2006; 3:11 PM

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans' St. Charles streetcar rumbled and clanked through the Big Easy on Tuesday for the first time since Hurricane Katrina shut down the world's oldest continuously running line 16 months ago.

Operator Clarence Glover, with 25 years on the St. Charles line, pulled out the pine green car built in 1922 with his first post-Katrina passengers, including Mayor Ray Nagin.

"It feels great, like I've been away from home for a long time and now I'm back," said Glover, 54.

The St. Charles line, long a symbol of New Orleans, opened in 1835 with steam-powered cars before using overhead electricity from 1893. Before Katrina, it carried 3 million passengers a year, including many a Mardi Gras reveler.

Nagin, who has taken a great deal of heat for a slow rebuilding of the city, stood up and hung on as the car made its way past cheering citizens.

"We're coming back slowly but surely. This is a big one," he said.

Glover hoped Tuesday's inauguration would bring some of his co-workers back to the city, which has less than half of the 480,000 people it had before the storm flooded 80 percent of the area.

"It means more tourists will come back to ride on the streetcars and that means more streetcars on the line, which means they can bring more people who have been laid off back to work," he said.

Bob Phillips, a tourist from New York City, readied his $1.25 fare to ride the streetcar, which has featured in many movies and novels over the years. "How exciting is this? We just arrived in the city two hours ago," Phillips said.

While the St. Charles line was out of action, its green cars had been running on the Canal and Riverfront lines, which reopened earlier.

But only part of the St. Charles line, between Canal St. and Lee Circle, restarted on Tuesday. Full service down to Carrollton, passing the Garden District, will be restored by the end of 2007.

"You never realize how special it is until it is gone," said student Genevieve Fontenot, 17.

"I go to school on St. Charles and it was a normal thing to hear the streetcars rumbling down the street. It is just weird and quiet without them."

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