By Greg Bird
As two cases continue to wind their way through federal and district courts, McCreary County citizens gathered Tuesday night to discuss the ongoing issue of stopped trains blocking intersections, and what could be done to draw attention to the problem.
More than a dozen people, including Magistrate Bobby Strunk, gathered at the Fairbridge Inn in Whitley City to share their stories on how the blockages have impacted their lives and their concerns over safety.
Ironically, the meeting was delayed several minutes as a train had stopped on Mt. Pleasant, blocking the intersection for nearly an hour – preventing several attendees from arriving on time.
Strunk said the idea behind the meeting was in hopes of finding a solution, or at least bringing more attention to the issue. “We’ve tolerated this long enough,” he said.
Strunk said he has been in contact with state transportation officials in hopes of identifying alternate routes for roads affected by frequent blockages. He stated it was hoped that the railroad would help with construction costs if new roads were built.
EMS Director Jimmy Barnett, who agreed it was only a “matter of time” before an ambulance or emergency vehicle would not be able to cross the tracks to respond to an emergency.
Darlene Price, host of “Truth or Politics” is suggesting local and Pulaski County residents band together and travel to Frankfort for a large demonstration at the capital. “It will draw national attention to the issue,” she said.
She also is considering filing a class-action civil suit on behalf of families and individuals who are affected by train blockages.
McCreary County Sheriff Randy Waters has issued citations to several trains found blocking intersections, with Norfolk Southern in the past year, but there has been no resolution to the cases in District Court as of yet.
The District case has been continued several times as it appears the Court is waiting on a final ruling from the federal case filed by the Association of American Railroads, a lobbying group affiliated with Norfolk Southern as well as other railroad companies.
AAR filed a case in the United States District Court in London asking for an injunction to block the counties from enforcing state ordinances on railroad crossing blocking. Both Sheriff’s in McCreary and Pulaski Counties have used those ordinances to cite Norfolk Southern
The AAR argues the ordinances are unconstitutional as they are preempted by federal laws prohibiting states imposing laws on railways as part of the Federal Railroad Safety Act.
As the case in federal court progresses, it appears more likely that the ruling could go against McCreary and Pulaski Counties.
In the latest Court filing the AAR is asking the Judge for a ruling on their request for summary judgment to declare the ordinances in question as invalid as they conflict with the FRSA.
The filing cites a 1996 case decided in a Michigan District Court and affirmed by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that appears to support their request for judgment.
The case was brought by the Transportation Incorporated against the city of Plymouth, Michigan who had cited the railroad company under a local ordinance very similar to the ones in question in the recent case.
The motion to issue summary judgment has been taken in to consideration by U.S. District Judge Tatenhove. There is no indication when he might issue his ruling.