LOCAL

Oklahoma law that fines trains blocking railroad crossings ruled unconstitutional

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – It’s a frustrating situation that any Oklahoma drivers have dealt with on numerous occasions; a train blocking a busy intersection while stopped on the tracks.

In most cases, the train is only stopped for a short while.

However, there have been cases where a train has blocked a roadway for almost 24 hours.

After hearing from frustrated Oklahomans, Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall authored a bill that would fine train companies for blocking intersections.

McCall says not only is it annoying, but it is also potentially life-threatening if first responders become stuck at a crossing.

“We had a specific incident where the child could not get to the hospital because of the railroad crossing being blocked for a long period of time,” he said.

In 2019, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed that bill into law, which would allow local law enforcement agencies to cite trains that sit on railroad crossings for more than 10 minutes without moving.

Once the law went into effect, many local agencies were concerned about exactly how they could enforce the rule.

“I think cities and the state in general, we’re still not sure how all this is going to work out. It’s a step,” Casey Moore, with the Edmond Police Department, said. “We’ll see once that step is taken where the next step comes after that.”

Recently, BNSF Railway Company filed a lawsuit in federal court, challenging the law.

BNSF Railway says a stopped train on a track is a common and necessary occurrence. It says that it is simply following federal law by allowing other trains, especially those with hazardous materials, to pass.

Now, a federal judge has ruled that the law is unconstitutional and barred the state from enforcing it.

According to the court’s ruling, the judge determined that the law was preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, meaning it is facially unconstitutional.

“Blocked train crossings indisputably have safety implications. And, certainly, a state or local government can address grade-level railroad crossing issues in a manner that does not run afoul of federal law,” the ruling states. “The Court does not conclude that any statute relating to blocked crossings is prohibited. But a statute that tells railroad companies how long they may stop their trains- for whatever ends- intrudes on the territory reserved to the ICCTA.”

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