Book Online or Call 504.777.7769


5 stars on

Saint Charles Streetcar

Mikko Macchione

Tour Guide with Unique NOLA Tours and Author of books about New Orleans.

New Orleans Rum: A Decadent History

Hearing the streetcar rumble, rattle and squeak on by is a signature New Orleans experience. And it has been an experience for close to two hundred years.

The Saint Charles streetcar first started rambling in 1835. Its purpose was to connect New Orleans, downtown, to Carrollton, a suburb uptown. Today Carrollton is part of the city of New Orleans. In 1830, the population was about 46,000 – by 1840 it was 100,000. So a growing city realized it needed to have quality transportation.

These early cars, shipped in from England, were steam powered and could get up to a whopping 4 miles an hour. There was no right of way built yet, so the streetcars run right on the regular streets. So it was up to other pedestrians and drivers to stay out of the way.

More vexing for locals, steam power requires fire which produces smoke and soot. And, not for nothing, they sometimes blew up. So a search over the decades included having them pulled by a cable – San Francisco scooped up that idea when they started their system. Then they tried a thing they called a “Fireless Engine” – which was adopted by the city of Paris. 

Finally, in 1893, the smart folks figured out how to electrify the system, and it turned out to be shockingly successful. The electrification provided cleaner safer transportation and in 1922 the electric company unified all lines and we had a world class public transportation system. Interestingly, some cars from those days are still in use! There were lines to every part of town including the famous streetcar named Desire, which ran from Canal Street out to the neighborhood of Desire. 

Then, throughout the world, gas powered buses, which require way less overhead, started replacing urban trains. New Orleans discontinued all the lines (yes, there is a bus named Desire). All except one, our beloved Saint Charles streetcar. It is the longest running city streetcar line in the country – and as olive green today as it was when they ran during the Civil War.

Now we have four lines – Canal Street, Rampart/St. Claude, Riverfront and la Grande Dame herself the Saint Charles line. Passage costs $1.25 and for $3 you can get an all day pass that’s good on any line (or bus).

One final extremely important note: when you come here please don’t say “I’m going to ride the trolley.” And please don’t ride it, because if you do, you will be electrocuted. The trolley is the metal part that connects the streetcar to the overhead wire. And how unexciting is the title “A Trolley Named Desire?”