The railroad, which is an operating unit of Berkshire Hathaway, filed a suit with the U.S. District Court in the western district of Oklahoma on August 22, charging that Oklahoma’s statute, which became law on July 1, violates two existing federal laws – the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act and the Federal Railroad Safety Act.
Oklahoma’s statute enables local law enforcement to levy a fine on a stalled freight train up to $1,000 for blocking a railroad crossing for more than 10 minutes. The statute applies if a train is blocking vehicle traffic and the train is not moving continuously forward or backward. An exception is allowed if a train is not moving because of an emergency such as a derailment, mechanical failure, track or bridge washout or adverse weather conditions.
BNSF argued that the two federal laws preempt Oklahoma’s statue. The company said a variety of factors can influence why a train has to block a railroad crossing for more than 10 minutes.
“Numerous operational, safety and economic factors influence when a train stoppage blocks a vehicle intersection and the duration of the stop,” BNSF said, “including without limitation opposite traveling train ‘meet and passes,’ emergency operational events, limitations on train employees’ on-duty time imposed by the federal Hours of Service Laws, federal requirements to conduct brake tests after reconnecting cars detached from a train, train speed and train length.”
The suit names as defendants the city of Edmond, the city of Davis, both of which are in Oklahoma, and three members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) – Chairman Todd Hiett, Vice Chairman Bob Anthony and Commissioner Dana Murphy.
According to the suit, law enforcement with the city of Edmond issued citations to BNSF on July 17 and July 29, and on July 30, Edmond’s assistant city attorney filed a complaint against BNSF before the OCC as a way to enforce the citation. The OCC Secretary then issued a citation to BNSF and scheduled a hearing for BNSF failing to comply.
A similar situation happened with the city of Davis, where law enforcement issued a citation to BNSF on July 16, with the Davis city attorney filing a complaint against BNSF on August 1 in order to institute enforcement proceedings. The OCC also issued a citation to BNSF and scheduled a hearing for contempt.