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New Orleans RTA's Hurricane Katrina recovery led to a 'renewed organization'

The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) has experienced an "amazing renaissance" in the 10 years since the city was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, says RTA Chairman Sal Longoria.

In RTA's report to the community, "Rebuilding for Tomorrow: Our Progress and Vision for the Future," Longoria writes that the city's transit system faced "enormous challenges" to overcome the devastation that occurred in the aftermath of Katrina, which struck New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005.

According to the report, more than half of the agency's vehicles were destroyed and others were severely damaged. The RTA's maintenance and operational facilities and administrative offices were destroyed. Employees were devastated by the loss of their homes.

But, within 32 days and with limited funds, the RTA was able to resume limited operations using its surviving vehicles and buses donated by cities across the country.

"The RTA's resilient employees began to cobble together the remains of New Orleans' 179-year-old transit system," the report states.

Of what remained of the RTA infrastructure in Katrina's wake, the streetcars were in the best position to be quickly repaired and restored to service. The system qualified for federal funds that paid for restoration of streetcar track, electrical system and the streetcar vehicles.

"Thanks to these funds, streetcar lines now feature new infrastructure including underground cabling, track beds, catenary poles, electrification and substations," reads the report. "Streetcars were essential to mobility during the recovery years."

In an effort to secure as much external funding as possible, the RTA received more than $320 million in federal dollars. Those funds included a $45 million grant from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program; $17.3 million from federal stimulus funds; $7 million to replace crossties on the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line; and forgiveness of a $47 million community disaster loan. RTA also received $130 million in Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) funds to restore facilities, streetcar electrical wires and track infrastructure, and to purchase new streetcars, buses and paratransit vehicles.

"Through this process the RTA has emerged as a renewed organization," Longoria writes in the report's opening message.

While proud of the agency's achievements, its work is not yet complete, he adds. Challenges remain, especially when it comes to finding the funding needed to expand the system.

"As we move into the future, the RTA is committed to providing smart, efficient, equitable and innovative transit solutions for the city of New Orleans and the city of Kenner," he concludes. "We promise to continually strive for the day when our vision for a world-class New Orleans regional transit system becomes a reality."

To learn more about RTA’s 10-year recovery and rebuilding program, read the full report here.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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