A New Orleans judge has ordered Amtrak to stop construction on a chain-link fence along the Earhart Boulevard train tracks that Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council have said would impede growth in the surrounding neighborhood.
The city filed suit against National Railroad Passenger Corp., which operates as Amtrak, in Civil District Court, requesting a temporary restraining order and injunctions against the railcar operator.
Judge Christopher Bruno issued a temporary restraining order against the company Friday afternoon and set a hearing to consider a preliminary injunction for Oct. 6.
The suit was brought by the city and the New Orleans Building Corp., which leases the city-owned rail facilities to Amtrak. The city said the fence construction is in violation of Amtrak’s lease, which requires the company to “comply promptly with all applicable federal, Louisiana and local laws.”
The law the company is accused of breaking was passed with the express purpose of prohibiting the fence.
Earlier this month, the council voted 7-0 to direct the City Planning Commission to consider amending the city’s proposed new comprehensive zoning ordinance to include creation of the Earhart Corridor Spur Track Interim Zoning District to prohibit the building of “any barrier or other obstruction” within 15 feet of the train tracks between South Lopez Street and South Broad Street, unless the fence is reviewed and approved by the City Planning Commission staff.
Passage of the motion had the effect of putting the interim zoning district and thus the prohibition into effect immediately.
The motion was introduced by Council President Stacy Head, who said the fence was “prisonlike.”
“This is a barbed wire fence that looks very much like what the sheriff has been building around the jail,” Head said at the meeting. “It sends the wrong message.”
The fence would be 7 feet high and topped with a foot of barbed wire. Amtrak has said it needs to build the fence for security purposes.
But the council and the Mayor’s Office said it would interrupt the growth of the Earhart Boulevard corridor, which for years was the victim of neglect and disinvestment but now is home to Restaurant Depot, the corporate headquarters of Bridge House, the Sucré bakery, Woodward Design + Build and several other businesses.
The Department of Safety and Permits issued a stop-work order to the railroad on Sept. 19, the day after the council’s motion passed.
Amtrak continued working on the fence and the city issued a second stop-work order on Sept. 25, the city said in its lawsuit.
“Amtrak’s refusal to comply with the city’s repeated requests to cease construction leads the city to believe that it will not comply with the law absent an order from this court,” the city wrote in its suit.
Attorneys for Amtrak have asked that the case be moved to federal court, citing the 50 percent in capital stock the U.S. government holds in the company.