Rail-connected communities across America were dealt a significant blow earlier this week when SCOTUS declined to hear Ohio v. CSX Transportation Inc. The case involved Ohio's right to legislate and enforce limitations on the amount of time that trains are permitted to block crossings. As a result of this rejection, it appears that states and localities can no longer mandate that trains be moved after a specific time period, or even to allow first responders to deal with emergencies. Railway Age's article on the current situation is a great read.
While the decision is likely to reduce potential costs and logistical complexity for the Railroads, the impact of the loss of previously-held state's rights is massive and consequential. It's hard to find an upside for railtowns other than we now know that fines and state legislation are no longer an option.
The impacts include:
* Trains are permitted to block crossings indefinitely
* Trains don't have to move for first responders - even when they block the only access
* Entire communities can become 'land-locked', unable to enter or leave the area for hours or days at a time
* More lives will be lost by those who must trespass through stopped trains if they want to get to school, work, home, the doctor, or countless other activities most of us take for granted. (Operation Lifesaver, Inc. is working hard to fix this, and I applaud their efforts.)
While the end of the case is disappointing, there are still avenues we can and must pursue.
Railtowns United is reaching out to the railroads to discuss common-sense alternatives to indefinite blockages. We're talking with service providers who can help predict blockages and reroute traffic when possible. We've reached out to the Federal Railroad Administration - and seek clarification on what they can and can't do to reduce the impact on communities. And, though limited by non-profit status, we're doing what we can to ensure members of the US Congress can legislate a fix.
If you live in a rail-connected community and are struggling with safety, accessibility or growth due to railroad interactions, it's important to have your elected leaders join Railtowns United. It's only just starting, but has already been working with cities like Chicago, Atlanta, and New Haven, Indiana to bring positive change to our communities.
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