By Greg Bird
A Washington D.C. group has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court asking a federal judge to nullify Kentucky laws allowing local police forces to cite trains from obstructing roadways.
The suit, filed by the Association of American Railroads, contends the Kentucky Revised Statutes used by officers in Pulaski and McCreary counties are in violation of federal transportation laws and seeks to have those statutes declared invalid – thus negating any fines levied against the railroad for blocking intersections. It also asks the $17,000 in contempt charge fines against Norfolk Southern in Pulaski County be withdrawn.
The suit names Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear as well as McCreary County Sheriff Randy Waters, Pulaski County Sheriff Greg Speck and County Attorneys Conley Chaney and Martin Hatfield as defendants.
The Association of American Railroads is a non-profit trade association based out of Washington, D.C. that represents major freight railroad companies in the United States. According to the filing the AAR “appears regularly on behalf of the railroad industry before Congress, regulatory agencies, and the courts, including in cases involving federal preemption of state and local requirements.”
Claiming states are “almost universally prohibited” from passing laws disrupting the operation of a railway system, the main thrust behind the lawsuit is the Federal Rail Safety Act, which limits states’ ability to regulate railroads involved in interstate commerce.
It also asserts the Commerce Clause in the United States Constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce
Citing cases where states have tried to impose laws against railroads, the AAR lawsuit contends court cases have overturned the regulations.
“Nonetheless, states have, at times, attempted to step in and regulate certain aspects of railroad transportation, often running afoul of the boundary between state and federal authority,” it reads. “The United States Supreme Court has ‘frequently invalidated’ such state efforts to intrude into this arena.”
It claims KRS 277.200 (1), used to fine the railroad company in Pulaski County, and KRS 525.140, used in McCreary County, are considered anti-blocking statutes, and create additional burdens on interstate rail carriers.
Those statutes, the lawsuit contends, are in violation of the federal laws.
“To limit blocked crossings to five minutes or fewer in duration, or otherwise eliminate obstructions of highways (as in the KRS statutes) AAR’s members would be required to make at least one or more of the following changes in their operations: a. running trains at higher speed; b. operating shorter, and therefore more numerous, trains, or c. cutting a train to clear a grade crossing, which would significantly extend the duration of train stoppages and impact the movement of freight across the network.”
The lawsuit comes on the heels of several fines and citations issued to Norfolk Southern Railroad in McCreary and Pulaski counties over the past year – including a $17,000 Contempt of Court fine in Pulaski County last month.
It also follows a discussion between Norfolk Southern and McCreary County officials earlier this month that would hopefully lead to a resolution to roadway blockages. An official from the railway is expected to meet in person with Judge Executive Stephens and other county officials next week as well.