The New Orleans City Council lodged its opposition Thursday to a plan that would reroute freight rail traffic through several New Orleans neighborhoods.
The council passed a unanimous resolution opposing any plan that would divert freight trains running on the so-called “back belt” in Jefferson Parish to what is now a passenger-only line in Orleans Parish known as the “middle belt.”
The resolution was approved 5-0, with members Jared Brossett and Nadine Ramsey absent.
The council’s resolution is a response to the New Orleans Rail Gateway Program, a collaboration of local government agencies considering adjustments to train routes in the metro area.
The group, made up of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, the Regional Planning Commission and the Association of American Railroads, is looking at ways to improve efficiency, flood protection and the quality of life around rail lines — trying, for instance, to reduce the amount of time motorists spend idling at railroad crossings.
One of the proposals under consideration in the $750 million New Orleans Rail Gateway plan involves moving freight train traffic, about 32 trains daily, out of Old Metairie in Jefferson Parish and into the Hollygrove, Hollygrove-Dixon, Palm Air and Mid-City neighborhoods of Orleans Parish.
State officials have stressed that the group is simply studying various ideas and has not made any decisions.
The plan has been derided by residents in the Orleans neighborhoods, who have campaigned with the slogan “We won’t be railroaded.”
The neighborhoods are in Councilwoman Susan Guidry’s district. She called the matter a “social justice” issue and said shifting rail traffic as proposed would increase the vulnerability of already fragile neighborhoods.
“It’s very important to us as a city to take a stand on this issue,” Guidry said. “We want to stand firm on that and say ‘No’ today.”
The council resolution cites a DOTD estimate that freight rail traffic will rise by 57 percent by 2020. Such traffic can result in increased noise, structural damage to nearby buildings and health problems for residents, the council resolution says.
Guidry said the city owns a portion of the rail line that would be used to reroute the train and therefore has the power to put the brakes on the plan. She said New Orleans residents would have to vote on some part of the plan if it were to move forward.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in January that he did not support “a significant shift of freight train traffic from Old Metairie to Hollygrove or Mid-City.”
The council’s resolution received wide support. More than 30 people from the neighborhoods in question signed up to speak in support of it Thursday.
State Rep. Walt Leger also made a rare appearance in the City Council chamber to voice his opposition to the proposed rerouting. “Moving their problem to our neighborhood is not a solution; it’s a cop-out,” Leger said.
He said Orleans and Jefferson officials should work together with state and federal officials to find the resources to address the quality-of-life issues Jefferson residents have expressed as a result of the numerous freight trains moving through their neighborhoods and causing long traffic delays on Metairie Road.