BNSF wins over Oklahoma’s blocked crossing mandate

BNSF first sued Oklahoma entities in August 2019

A federal appeals court has sided with BNSF, agreeing that a local mandate by two Oklahoma cities penalizing freight railroads for blocking a highway rail grade crossing for more than 10 minutes goes against the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver, Colorado, determined that the blocked crossing statute, mandated by the cities of Davis and Edmond and supported by officials with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, pertains to the operation of railroads at rail crossings, which the ICCTA subsequently preempts.

The Oklahoma parties had asked the appeals court to agree that the blocked crossing mandate falls under rail safety provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) and not the ICCTA. 

But the 10th circuit court said the FRSA pertains to the condition of the infrastructure, which is not what the mandate is about.

“The Blocked Crossing Statute does not seek to regulate the condition of grade crossings but the movement of trains through them. Its primary directive prohibits the time a train can block a grade crossing,” noted the Tuesday decision. 

BNSF first filed the lawsuit in August 2019, following a July 2019 state law that allows 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.

Police officers with the cities of Davis and Edmond attempted to fine BNSF (NYSE: BRK.B), and BNSF sued the cities as well as three members of the Oklahoma Commerce Commission, the body that was responsible for enforcing the citations. BNSF originally argued that the blocked crossing statute violates the ICCTA and the FRSA.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.