BNSF Wins Train Crossing Law Court Case in Oklahoma

The Class 1 railroad BNSF has won a court case in Oklahoma, challenging a state law that banned stopped trains from blocking roads on railroad crossings for more than ten minutes.

BNSF sued the state of Oklahoma in 2019 after police officers issued citations in the cities of Edmond and Davis. The blockage in Edmond lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes, the blockage in Davis lasted 38 minutes.

On 30 November, U.S. District Judge Charles B. Goodwin determined that the 2019 Blocked Crossing Statute – it came into effect on 1 July – was unconstitutional because it did not align with a federal law, the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act.

The defence argued that blocked railroad crossings caused welfare and safety issues. Specifically, they cited a paramedic in Davis who had to “jump between rail cars of a stopped train to reach a patient in time to save them from a life-or-death anaphylactic shock”. However, although the judge agreed that there could be safety implications, it was beside the point because of the precedence of federal law (there is a Supremacy Clause in the US Constitution to that effect). He suggested that local government could address the railroad crossing issue in a way that did not conflict with federal law.

The state law already allowed for exceptions if a train was stopped due to a derailment, an accident, a mechanical failure, a bridge washout or a storm. Prior to the judge’s ruling railroads could be fined up to 1,000 USD if they violated the state law.

When BNSF filed the lawsuit in October 2019, the judge issued a preliminary injunction against the law being enforced until a final determination could be made.

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