It was standing room only Jan. 23 at a meeting of the Coalition United Against the Middle Belt, a group opposed to rerouting freight trains through Hollygrove and Mid-City from their current path through Old Metairie.

  The New Orleans Rail Gateway is the fourth largest in the country and services the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Southeast Louisiana. Chris Gesing, a project leader with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), said the gateway is riddled with deficiencies. He could not say, however, why a reroute through Hollygrove and Mid-City was necessary to address the gateway's antiquated infrastructure.

  "There are a number of different projects that are part of the overall project that have nothing to do with the back belt or the middle belt," said District A New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry. "They're just improvements that the railroads need to make in their system. So some of these improvements have nothing to do with whether we put the trains on the back belt, where it is now, or move it to the middle belt, which [runs past] Hollygrove and Mid-City."

  Passenger trains travel the Hollygrove and Mid-City route, but residents are concerned freight trains carrying hazardous materials would pose health threats to their communities. A decision on the reroute is expected by 2015, but Guidry assured the crowd of about 300 people: "We will not agree to this. You can rest on that."