Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

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Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby SCB2525 » Mon Apr 13, 2015 4:51 pm

I only ask this for the sake of discussion; by law, could a city or municipality impose stricter regulations on a railroad in terms of say minimum class of track or frequency of inspection for track within its boundaries or does the FRA have that sole right?

This came up in a discussion I had over oil train safety.
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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby nomis » Mon Apr 13, 2015 5:15 pm

The feds would have the monopoly for setting governance policies. Theoretically, a government agency could strong-arm funding withdrawl if more stringent inspections would be made, but it wouldn't stick. The railroad can impose greater inspection frequencies than which the FRA requires, and the FRA will hold you to your stricter regulations ...
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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby catfish63755 » Tue May 26, 2015 8:54 pm

My dad is a retired engineer from the SSW/SP/UP and he was issued a speeding ticket for operating the train at a speed in excess of what the speed limit on the crossing street was by mail from a small town. He gave it to whatever railroad official he saw next and they took care of it. (Don't know if they fought the charge or just paid it off.) The moral of the story is that local governments can and will often try to govern the railroads in their jurisdiction, but it is usually cheaper for the railroads to pay whatever fine the kangaroo court hands down and keep on with business as usual. Another example is the "Horn Free Zones" in some cities that are getting people killed.
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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby Ken W2KB » Thu Jul 02, 2015 11:54 am

The short answer is that railroad safety and operations regulation is completely preempted by the Federal government. With respect to locally issued fines and penalties, I suspect that most railroads litigate these rather than pay them. Otherwise the word gets out that the railroad is a soft touch and the number of these local initiatives will skyrocket as a perceived new revenue stream for the municipalities.
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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby ExCon90 » Thu Jul 02, 2015 2:31 pm

In line with that, I believe that on some railroads engineers are routinely instructed never to show their driver's license when operating a locomotive. They're not required to show anything but their FRA license, since they're not driving an automobile, but some small-town peace officers aren't up to speed on that.
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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby Watchman318 » Sat Jul 04, 2015 12:37 pm

catfish63755 wrote:Another example is the "Horn Free Zones" in some cities that are getting people killed.
As far as I know, no community has ever (permanently) implemented a "no horn zone" without FRA approval. A town in Maine had applied to have some of its crossings along an Amtrak route designated "no horn," but a car-vs.-train crash in February (somebody "navigated around the crossing arm") skewed the score in the FRA formula, causing the request to be disapproved. Unless a town/city agrees to fund quad gates or other safety improvements at the crossings it wants to be in a "quiet zone," they're probably not going to get approval. <http://bangordailynews.com/2015/03/11/news/portland/train-car-crash-forces-yarmouth-to-rethink-rail-quiet-zones>
I don't know of a way to search the FRA database for statistics on it (I didn't see anything in the incident reporting form about it), but I'll bet that proportionally, there are fewer crashes at no-horn crossings than at ones where the hoorn is routinely used.

ExCon90 wrote:In line with that, I believe that on some railroads engineers are routinely instructed never to show their driver's license when operating a locomotive. They're not required to show anything but their FRA license, since they're not driving an automobile, but some small-town peace officers aren't up to speed on that.
Yup. I know an engineer who had to fight to have "points" corrected on his driver's license because of a crash. It must have somehow ended up that he "ran into" the "other" vehicle. Um, yeah, only after the driver of that vehicle basically ran a red light in front of the engineer's "vehicle."
I hope more law enforcement agencies will send officers to Operation Lifesaver's Grade Crossing Collision Investigation course, and then have the officers who've completed the course handle any crossing crash investigations. (And/or pass the correct info along to their fellow officers.)
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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby Gadfly » Sat Jul 04, 2015 6:08 pm

Watchman318 wrote:
catfish63755 wrote:Another example is the "Horn Free Zones" in some cities that are getting people killed.
As far as I know, no community has ever (permanently) implemented a "no horn zone" without FRA approval. A town in Maine had applied to have some of its crossings along an Amtrak route designated "no horn," but a car-vs.-train crash in February (somebody "navigated around the crossing arm") skewed the score in the FRA formula, causing the request to be disapproved. Unless a town/city agrees to fund quad gates or other safety improvements at the crossings it wants to be in a "quiet zone," they're probably not going to get approval. <http://bangordailynews.com/2015/03/11/news/portland/train-car-crash-forces-yarmouth-to-rethink-rail-quiet-zones>
I don't know of a way to search the FRA database for statistics on it (I didn't see anything in the incident reporting form about it), but I'll bet that proportionally, there are fewer crashes at no-horn crossings than at ones where the hoorn is routinely used.

ExCon90 wrote:In line with that, I believe that on some railroads engineers are routinely instructed never to show their driver's license when operating a locomotive. They're not required to show anything but their FRA license, since they're not driving an automobile, but some small-town peace officers aren't up to speed on that.
Yup. I know an engineer who had to fight to have "points" corrected on his driver's license because of a crash. It must have somehow ended up that he "ran into" the "other" vehicle. Um, yeah, only after the driver of that vehicle basically ran a red light in front of the engineer's "vehicle."
I hope more law enforcement agencies will send officers to Operation Lifesaver's Grade Crossing Collision Investigation course, and then have the officers who've completed the course handle any crossing crash investigations. (And/or pass the correct info along to their fellow officers.)



Seems out of line to me. First of all, it is ILLEGAL for a motor vehicle to cross at grade & ignore red signals and/or gates. It is the responsibility of the MOTORIST, not the train engineer, to see it is safe to cross. THAT is FEDERAL law. And it ain't UP to some little local p*ss ant town's Bubba cop. Ergo, since a "collision" occurred ON the RoW, the vehicle had to break the law to start with in order to make contact with the train. Trains don't have steering wheels! Thus, the collision was the fault of the automobile. Period. I wouldn't dare question anybody on this here & I mean no harm. But it sounds like urban legend to me! :-D This could NOT hold up in court, especially once it hit Federal level--as it surely would if an engineer were to be found "guilty" by some stupid little local judge on the word of some air-headed little cop with a round belly and a fat head! :-D :-D

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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby Watchman318 » Mon Jul 06, 2015 1:13 pm

Right; but are there any penalties for drivers who violate the federal laws about grade crossings? Maybe for commercial carriers, but otherwise, it would be handled under state motor vehicle laws. The engineer in the case I mentioned wasn't cited for anything, or AFAIK noted as "at fault" in any way on the police report. But if it's incorrectly documented to begin with (listing him as a "vehicle operator" when he wasn't), then by the time the report gets to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, it can cause problems if someone along the way doesn't notice the error(s). A lot of information can get lost or overlooked in the check-boxes and narrative of "who ran into whom, and how."
The motorist was definitely at fault, but he was elderly, and apparently watched two vehicles ahead of him "run the lights" (and probably ignoring the horn), so he might have thought he was "clear to proceed" too. I don't think the motorist was cited, possibly because he was hospitalized after the crash.
Unfortunately, it seems like drivers involved in crossing collisions around here are cited maybe half the time, and it depends on the jurisdiction and/or circumstances of the incident. Maybe there's some "Well, he (or she) got his (or her) car crunched, so s/he won't do that again" going on. I dunno.
It all comes under one of OLI's "Three E's," specifically Education. There needs to be more of it.

But we digress. (That hardly ever happens on this forum, right? ;-)) As to the original question, if a local or state law covers something not in federal law, then it might stand. (Example: One city along our local line has an ordinance against parking within ten feet of a track. It might be rarely imposed, but there's a $50 fine for it. I like that.) But for anything intended to regulate a railroad, federal preemption will probably apply. If the local law appears to interfere with the regular business of the railroad, it's probably going to get overruled quickly.

Sometimes preemption doesn't work out so well. I don't know the exact wording of the federal law about train crew drug/alcohol testing after an incident, but I believe it says crew members aren't required to be tested in certain circumstances. (Basically, anything beyond their control, such as a trespasser who gets hit by a train.) It might not prohibit them from being tested, but testing isn't mandatory as it would be under other conditions.
In one local case in which two trespassers were fatally injured, a surviving trespasser's defense attorney made much of the fact that the engineer wasn't required to be tested for intoxication afterward, calling that "a conspiracy between the FRA and the railroad." {WT* emoticon here} The DA could have blown a hole in that by asking the state trooper who investigated the incident if he saw any signs of either crew member being under the influence of anything, and mentioned a state law prohibiting intoxication of certain railroad employees while on duty. But if the DA did counter with that, I didn't see it reported in the paper. :-(

Nothing preempts the Law of Unintended Consequences. {shaking head}
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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby ExCon90 » Mon Jul 06, 2015 2:37 pm

And at best there's the amount of time and red tape involved in getting the record straightened out once the error gets into the system.
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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby Watchman318 » Mon Jul 06, 2015 2:40 pm

^^^ Yeah; and if an insurance company gets into it . . . :(
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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby Desertdweller » Mon Jul 06, 2015 2:48 pm

My car insurance went up after a grade-crossing accident. When I asked why, I was told "Because you got into a grade crossing accident." My reply was, "I know. I was driving the train."

My rate was adjusted back down.

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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby Gadfly » Thu Jul 09, 2015 10:24 am

Watchman318 wrote:Right; but are there any penalties for drivers who violate the federal laws about grade crossings? Maybe for commercial carriers, but otherwise, it would be handled under state motor vehicle laws. The engineer in the case I mentioned wasn't cited for anything, or AFAIK noted as "at fault" in any way on the police report. But if it's incorrectly documented to begin with (listing him as a "vehicle operator" when he wasn't), then by the time the report gets to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, it can cause problems if someone along the way doesn't notice the error(s). A lot of information can get lost or overlooked in the check-boxes and narrative of "who ran into whom, and how."
The motorist was definitely at fault, but he was elderly, and apparently watched two vehicles ahead of him "run the lights" (and probably ignoring the horn), so he might have thought he was "clear to proceed" too. I don't think the motorist was cited, possibly because he was hospitalized after the crash.
Unfortunately, it seems like drivers involved in crossing collisions around here are cited maybe half the time, and it depends on the jurisdiction and/or circumstances of the incident. Maybe there's some "Well, he (or she) got his (or her) car crunched, so s/he won't do that again" going on. I dunno.
It all comes under one of OLI's "Three E's," specifically Education. There needs to be more of it.

But we digress. (That hardly ever happens on this forum, right? ;-)) As to the original question, if a local or state law covers something not in federal law, then it might stand. (Example: One city along our local line has an ordinance against parking within ten feet of a track. It might be rarely imposed, but there's a $50 fine for it. I like that.) But for anything intended to regulate a railroad, federal preemption will probably apply. If the local law appears to interfere with the regular business of the railroad, it's probably going to get overruled quickly.

Sometimes preemption doesn't work out so well. I don't know the exact wording of the federal law about train crew drug/alcohol testing after an incident, but I believe it says crew members aren't required to be tested in certain circumstances. (Basically, anything beyond their control, such as a trespasser who gets hit by a train.) It might not prohibit them from being tested, but testing isn't mandatory as it would be under other conditions.
In one local case in which two trespassers were fatally injured, a surviving trespasser's defense attorney made much of the fact that the engineer wasn't required to be tested for intoxication afterward, calling that "a conspiracy between the FRA and the railroad." {WT* emoticon here} The DA could have blown a hole in that by asking the state trooper who investigated the incident if he saw any signs of either crew member being under the influence of anything, and mentioned a state law prohibiting intoxication of certain railroad employees while on duty. But if the DA did counter with that, I didn't see it reported in the paper. :-(

Nothing preempts the Law of Unintended Consequences. {shaking head}


All quite true! Honestly, I don't know how the "on-the-spot" handling of suspected intoxication is handled. I mostly remember Rule G which prohibits intoxication of railroad employees under FRA rules. It IS also true that local yokels sometimes get a bit out of line when it comes to their "authority" WRT railroads and their employees. I recall a dispute between a Class I railroad where a mayor threatened an employee with arrest because, I believe it was, a RR employee was removing a sign that was placed on railroad property and/or RoW. This put the employee in a real spot because he was under orders by his supervisor to remove the signage, and here's this local mayor getting irate and in his face! According to the video, this little major was really all up in the man's s*** with threats he truly had no authority to make! Now, I don't know 'bout y'all, but once I got all the legalities cleared up, me and that little fart would've tangled!!!!! I mean, REALLY tangled, the way he was yelling and throwing his little p*ss ant authority around. He needed his little wormy *** kicked! :-D He really thought he could tell the railroad what to do, but I got news for him!

I can understand how much trouble the locals CAN cause for innocent railroaders because of mistaken jurisdiction questions. No doubt that has happened, and I've seen it while standing trackside after having just hit someone (I was a 'deadheading' employee). Ive been retired for 10+ years now, but I recall that the company had specific instructions for crews as to what to say and do in response to aggressive cops/courts.

In regards to some of the local "whistle ordinances", I can see how this might backfire on uninformed, but well-meaning towns. It might be possible for a "victim" (they are only such because of their own actions) AND the railroad to use that against the town in order to seek redress; the victim for his injuries, the railroad as a defense against monetary judgements.

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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby toolmaker » Tue Apr 19, 2016 6:21 pm

In the early 1980's the Marysville, PA police were trying to cite trains heading into Enola for speeding. The tracks ran parallel to the road but with a sizable buffer between them. The posted speed limit for vehicles was lower than the freight trains in that section.

I moved away before this was resolved. Does anyone remember this crazy episode?
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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby Watchman318 » Wed Apr 27, 2016 2:26 pm

Googling "Marysville PA speeding trains," I found a few results (UPI Archives, etc.) from June-July 1986:
[Amtrak spokesman John] Jacobsen said he is not sure the borough has authority to regulate train speeds, which are generally set by railroads in compliance with federal guidelines.


I didn't see anything about an outcome, but I'll bet the borough got told they couldn't do that. http://www.upi.com/Archives/1986/07/09/Police-cite-passenger-train-for-speeding/3273521265600

Then again, Maine still has this language in a statute (Title 23, Sec. 7214): "Every corporation shall cause a whistle and a bell of at least 35 pounds in weight to be placed on each locomotive used on its railroad, and the whistles shall be sounded as a warning beginning at a distance of 990 feet, on standard or narrow gauge railroads, from all crossings of those ways on the same level, unless the Department of Transportation, on petition of the corporation or of the municipal officers or of 10 or more residents of any city or town in which the crossing is located, after notice and hearing, shall order the sounding of the whistle to be discontinued in any city or village until further order of the department. The bell shall be rung at a distance of 990 feet, on standard or narrow gauge railroads, from grade crossings and be kept ringing until the engine has passed the crossings." [Emphasis added.]
I don't know if it's ever been enforced, but the mention of "narrow gauge railroads" suggests it's been on the books for awhile. Then again, we also have at least one section somewhere that refers to "steam or electric railroads." I think somewhere in definitions I saw that a steam railroad was anything not operated by electricity.

And Title 12 still contains this language in the sections about operation of snowmobiles or ATVs on railroad rights-of-way: "[A] person may operate within the right-of-way of a portion of railroad line that has been officially abandoned under the authority of the Interstate Commerce Commission." The ICC went away how many years ago? A few years ago, I was going to try getting that amended, along with the language allowing them to cross a track anywhere it's not specifically prohibited, but other stuff on my To-Do List took precedence.
There's still some useful stuff in the old criminal code (Title 17) about tampering with a railroad car, but the statute about removing packing or bearings from journal boxes might be somewhat dated.
I have digressed again. :wink:

I think Weigher of Locomotive Bells would be an interesting job. :P
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Re: Local Railroad Safety Regulation?

Postby toolmaker » Wed Apr 27, 2016 4:05 pm

Thank you for the link above and here is full UPI the article.


MARYSVILLE, Pa. -- The whistle was blown on Amtrak's Broadway Limited because the train exceeded a 20 mph speed limit while passing through Marysville in south-central Pennsylvania, authorities said Wednesday.

The Broadway Limited was electronically timed June 25 at 45 mph in a zone where trains are restricted by a borough ordinance because tracks are within 75 feet of homes, authorities said.

A district justice mailed the citation Tuesday to Amtrak's headquarters in Washington, D.C. The violation is punishable by a maximum fine of $300 or 90 days in jail.

'We were a little surprised' upon learning of the citation, Amtrak spokesman John Jacobsen said. 'We haven't seen the citation. Obviously, we're going to look into it.'

Jacobsen said Amtrak trains have been ticketed before,'but I don't know how often.'

Marysville Solicitor William Dissinger said the borough adopted the speeding ordinance in December because residents living nearing tracks were worried about accidents.

In some areas of town, train tracks are as close as 20 feet to residences, Dissinger said. He added it would be impossible to get fire and rescue vehicles to some homes in case of a wreck.

'We don't feel it's an undue restraint' on the railroads, Dissinger said. 'It's a local safety matter.'

Jacobsen said he is not sure the borough has authority to regulate train speeds, which are generally set by railroads in compliance with federal guidelines.

Conrail, which owns and also operates on the tracks, has notified the borough it believes the ordinance is unconstitutional because it restricts interstate trade.

Dissinger said the borough considered going through the state Public Utility Commission and the Federal Rail Administration to keep train speeds down, but 'We like to deal with our own problems.'

He said if Amtrak fights the citation and wins, the borough will take the case to civil court.

'I'd certainly prefer it if these people would voluntarily comply with the ordinance like good citizens,' Dissinger said.
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