By Greg Bird
After seemingly countless delays, the local cases against Norfolk Southern Railroad for blocking railroad crossings could see their day in court.
In McCreary County District Court last Thursday Judge Fred White ordered the cases against the railroad company to move forward and set a jury trial date of April 22 – more than two years after the legal proceedings began.
The cases stem from citations issued against Norfolk Southern trains by the McCreary County Sheriff’s Department in March and April 2018. In each instance deputies cited the trains for violating KRS 525.140, obstructing a highway. According to the citations the trains had blocked roadways at the Century Lane, Mt. Pleasant and Madeline Strunk Road crossings for several hours on the related dates.
The offense is considered a Class B Misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a fine up to $250.
While the potential fine is seemingly inconsequential to the billion-dollar railroad company, a guilty finding could set a dangerous precedent for the railway industry as a whole.
Both McCreary and Pulaski counties are involved in a related federal lawsuit where the Association of American Railroads is suing to have the citations declared in violation of the Interstate Commerce Act, and thus invalidating the entire state statute.
In several cases outside of Kentucky, courts have ruled that local laws are superseded by federal laws and regulations so there is still every possibility that the federal case could render any local judgment moot.
The federal case has seen no action since last May when the plaintiffs filed a motion asking for a summery judgment on their case. They are asking for the Judge to rule in their favor, without needing a trial.
Only time will tell if the latest local developments will have any impact on the federal proceedings.