RTA celebrates a century of the Perley A. Thomas streetcar with block party at Carrollton Streetcar Barn
- November 1st, 2023
NEW ORLEANS - On Saturday, Oct. 28, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) hosted a block party to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the use of the Perley A. Thomas streetcar which were introduced on the Historic St. Charles Streetcar line throughout 1923 and 1924. The celebration took place at the Carrollton Streetcar Barn in the Carrollton neighborhood, welcoming the community, streetcar enthusiasts and public officials for a family-friendly event with music, refreshments, activities, and guided tours of the equally historic facility. The RTA’s CEO, Lona Edwards Hankins, hosted facility tours, featuring the skilled craftsmen who build and maintain the streetcar system.
“It was an honor to join our community to celebrate the legacy of the Perley A. Thomas Streetcar, St. Charles Streetcar Line and the RTA workforce that has maintained the system for generations,” said Lona Edwards Hankins, RTA CEO. “We hope that by celebrating our skilled craftsman and their work to maintain our iconic streetcars, we are planting seeds in our young people who may one day want to pursue careers in transit, engineering and skilled trades.”
Debuting in 1835, the St. Charles Streetcar line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world and is registered as a National Historic Landmark by the National Historic Register in Washington, D.C. The first streetcars were pulled by steam locomotives and were later replaced by horse-drawn carriages. In 1893 the streetcar line was electrified. The iconic, green Perley A. Thomas cars were introduced in the New Orleans Streetcar system between 1923 and 1924. These streetcars are revered for their artistry and meticulous construction. Of the 173 Perley A. Thomas streetcars originally ordered, 38 remain with 10-13 in service on the St. Charles Streetcar line daily. The entire streetcar fleet are completely maintained by skilled RTA electricians, welders, carpenters, machinists, and painters, often using antique tools and machines dating back to the 1900s. Originally purchased for $15,000 each, the Perley A. Thomas replicas would cost nearly $4 million per car to build today.
“The RTA Board of Commissioners is proud to share the history and legacy of the Historic St. Charles Streetcar line with our community, transit enthusiasts and the thousands of visitors who come to New Orleans to experience the iconic streetcar system”, said Mark Raymond, Jr., Chairman, RTA Board of Commissioners. “As we seek to maintain the historic aspects of this line we are also working diligently to solve for the fact that the Perley A. Thomas cars were not originally equipped with lifts for riders who rely on wheelchairs or those with mobility challenges. We are balancing the unique history of our legacy system but also looking to the future, a future that more proactively prioritizes the needs of all riders, particularly those with mobility challenges.”
Like many industries that rely on skilled labor, the RTA is working to attract the next generation of its workforce to preserve the rich, nearly 200-year legacy of the New Orleans streetcar system. Most of the principal craftsmen who maintain the legacy streetcar system are at or beyond retirement eligibility, creating a potential skilled labor crisis. Simultaneously, the RTA is re-training and developing a workforce to expand the use of low- and no-emission vehicles beyond our current streetcar system to our fixed route bus service, ferry vessels and eventually modern rail. The RTA has partnered with Delgado Community College and nonprofit partners like the 1881 Institute to identify and train a workforce that can carry the baton to the next phase of the RTA’s history.