Federal Court Overrules Kentucky Blocked Crossing Law

State laws designed to discourage railroads from blocking grade crossings that have the effect of regulating railroad operations are impermissible under federal law, a judge has ruled.

The case involved a Kentucky law that was challenged by the Association of American Railroads.

A federal court in rendering the ruling in favor of AAR acknowledged that states have historically had a role in regulating local highways.

But the Kentucky law has the effect of regulating railroads and that is the province of federal law, the court ruled.

“ . . . the state does not have the authority to regulate highway safety to the extent that its laws require the railroad to effect such substantial changes,” the ruling said.

At issue was a case that began with police in Pulaski and McCreary counties issuing citations to Norfolk Southern under a state law that stated trains cannot block roadways for more than five minutes.

The Pulaski citations were issued for blocking Richardson Lane near a depot in Burnside.

Most of the citations said trains were stopped for between 15 to 20 minutes.

NS contended in court that five minutes is not long enough to perform all of the safety checks needed following a crew change.

An NS manager said that those checks can take 15 to 20 minutes if everything goes well.

Although NS entered pleas of guilty to 11 misdemeanor citations, the AAR filed a lawsuit on the railroad’s behalf in a federal court against Pulaski County Attorney Martin Hatfield and Pulaski Sheriff Greg Speck in their official capacities, as well as the Sheriff and County Attorney for McCreary County.

After the court ruled against him, Hatfield issued a statement saying that although he was disappointed in the ruling, local authorities would obey it as they review their options for an appeal.

He said the state court cases should not be affected “until we have either exhausted our appeals, or made the decision not to appeal.”

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