INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Supreme Court's ruling Monday means local authorities can no longer impose a fine on rail companies when a train blocks a public road for an extended period, so who's holding those rail companies responsible now?
The Supreme Court's ruling says that Indiana's Blocked Crossing Statute is pre-empted by two federal laws: The Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act and the Federal Railroad Safety Act.
Those laws prohibit states from attempting to interfere with the safe operation of trains.
"We were hoping decency and logic would prevail in this particular case,” City-County Councilor Zach Adamson said. “The federal law is silent on the issue of blocking thoroughfares, so that's where the state laws that come from.”
Many areas were dealing with slow and stopped trains across the state, but one of the areas hit hardest was Indianapolis’ Holy Cross neighborhood on the near East Side.
Those crossings were the subject a Call 6 Investigation earlier this year, which found the railroad crossings were blocked for more than 10 minutes more than 20 percent of the time.
At the time, police said they would start looking into issuing more tickets to the railroads.
Since the Call 6 investigation in the spring, the issue of blocked crossings has decreased on the near east side, according to Adamson, who represents the area.
But with those state laws overturned, who can keep the railroads in check?
Because of the Indiana Supreme Court ruling, cities, counties and the state itself have no recourse when railroads are blocking crossings.
Federal law also doesn’t regulate how long crossings can stay blocked, but the Federal Surface Transportation Board can step in to assist if complaints warrant an investigation.
The STB can then fine railroads for excessive blocking of crossings if they find that the railroad violated federal policies.
If you have issues with a local rail crossing that you want to bring to the Surface Transportation Board's attention, you can contact them through email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the STB website for other contact information.
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