Indiana Supreme Court to see case about railroad fines

The Indiana Supreme Court will consider the validity of a state law allowing local governments to fine railroads when a stopped train blocks a street for more than 10 minutes.

Posted: Apr 24, 2018 9:13 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Supreme Court will consider the validity of a state law allowing local governments to fine railroads when a stopped train blocks a street for more than 10 minutes.

Norfolk Southern Railway Co. is seeking the dismissal of 23 citations it received in Allen County, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported . The company cited two federal laws it said pre-empts the enforcement of Indiana's Blocked Crossing Statute.

The Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act and the Federal Railroad Safety Act prohibit states from attempting to interfere with the safe operation of trains, the railway argued. The railway said it would have to run trains at higher speeds, operate shorter trains more frequently or temporarily pull trains apart at crossings to limit blocked crossings.

Federal laws about the issue are broad, but they don't "explicitly subsume" the state's ability to regulate roadway blockages, said Curtis Hill, the state's attorney general.

"Thus, at its core, this case is about the ability of a railroad to act with impunity in inhibiting the movement of people and traffic through a municipality and an unwillingness to pay the associated fines resulting from those infractions," Hill said.

The state Court of Appeals unanimously ruled last year that the statute isn't pre-empted by federal law.

"Without state action, railroads would be allowed to block major thoroughfares for an infinite amount of time because the federal regulation is silent," the appeals court said.

Norfolk Southern and a coalition of short line railroads operating in Indiana warned that allowing the statute to stand puts the state's commerce at risk. Railroads can be fined up to $500 per citation, according to the statute.

"The (Court of Appeals) opinion may increase costs for Indiana railroads and businesses, it will reduce their competitiveness, and it could spawn a host of local regulations of rail operations, further reducing the competitiveness of Indiana's railroads and businesses," the coalition said in document.

The high court hasn't yet set a date for oral arguments.

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