NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Freight trains are not going away anytime soon. In fact, the federal government expects rail service to expand in coming years.
But an idea that is being studied has drawn opposition from the New Orleans City Council.
"We stood up and systematically we made our voices heard and here we stand today joined together - citizens, elected officials - to unequivocally declare that we won't be railroaded," said Rev. Earl Williams of the Coalition Against the Middle Belt.
With the anticipated expansion of rail service, there is an ongoing study on the feasibility of diverting freight train traffic from the Back Belt, which runs through Old Metairie in Jefferson Parish, to the Middle Belt line affecting the Hollygrove, Hollygrove-Dixon, Palm Air, and Mid-City neighborhoods in New Orleans.
Residents of those areas showed up in force at Thursday's meeting of the City Council.
"With hazardous and chemical materials being 50 percent or more of the cargo, we're definitely concerned about our safety and health," said Karen Ocker, also of the Coalition United Against the Middle Belt.
Even House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, added his voice to the discussion.
"Moving their problem to our neighborhoods is not a solution, it's a cop-out," Leger said.
Some parks in Hollygrove and Mid-City are already adjacent to railroad tracks.
"We're concerned with the plight of the health of our children. Hollygrove is an area and Mid-City that's already inundated by pollution, and this would exacerbate it," said Rev. Williams.
"My concerns are the taking of a portion of St. Patrick's Park, which is a very heavily used park in Mid-City, and there is a threat of expropriation of a number of Mid-City businesses and homes that have been rebuilt since Katrina," Ocker said.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry represents the areas and convinced the rest of the council to approve a resolution stating the body's opposition to the diversion of the freight train traffic through New Orleans neighborhoods.
"It is already surrounded by high-traffic roads, and so to increase to their vulnerability by putting all this rail traffic through there is an issue of social justice, I believe," Guidry said of the Hollygrove area.
"We think that this has put a significant nail in the coffin, but the fight still pursues," Williams said.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development issued the following statement on the study: "We are still working with the Federal Railroad Administration to identify the additional data we must gather before starting the analysis phase of the study."