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New Orleans to get help with streetcar repairs

The Regional Transit Authority is getting $43 million to help repair the city’s hurricane-damaged public transportation system.

All 24 of the streetcars that ran on Canal Street and most of the agency’s 372-bus fleet were damaged or destroyed by the floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina last year, said RTA spokeswoman Rosalind Blanco Cook.

The FEMA money, announced Tuesday, will be split between rebuilding the Canal line street cars and replacing some of the 205 buses that were lost, she said.

“It does go a long way to restoring the capability and capacity of the system,” said Jim Stark, director of the Louisiana transitional recovery office for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Street cars now run on Canal, but instead of the new, bright red cars built for the Canal line, they are the green early 20th-century models from the historic St. Charles line, which has been out of commission because of electrical system damage from Katrina.

The red Canal Street cars were in a building that took on 4 1/2 feet of water after Katrina and will need to be rebuilt, with new electrical components, paint and wood finishing.

Transportation officials expect it will take nine months before the first Canal streetcar is ready to roll, and they hope to introduce additional cars at a rate of, perhaps, one every two months, she said.

It generally takes a year or so to get buses on order, and the transit authority doesn’t expect to replace all the damaged buses. Doing so would cost about $68 million, she said, and a recent estimate of the city’s population put it at less than half its pre-Katrina level of 454,000 people.

“Eventually, we’d like to replace most of our fleet, but that would take time,” she said.

As for the St. Charles streetcar line, transit officials hope to have a portion of it running by December, Cook said. The entire line is expected to be fully operational by the end of next year, she said.