City Council addresses rail crossings
Beaumonters who hate the long delays they experience due to trains stopped on the tracks at railroad crossings in the city and who have been begging for relief are just going to have to wait — for now at least, according to city attorney Tyrone Cooper.
During a work session at the regular council meeting Dec. 17, the Beaumont City Council addressed concerns from citizens brought to the council by Ward 3 Councilman Audwin Samuel and Ward 3 Councilman Jamie Smith relating to delays caused by trains stopped on tracks at railroad crossings for long periods of time. Previously, the Beaumont City Council attempted to alleviate those delays by enacting an ordinance limiting the time trains are allowed to be stopped while blocking roadways to five minutes from the 10 minutes allowed by state regulations. However, the five-minute rule has thus far been unenforceable due to jurisdiction issues; state and federal regulations trump the local ordinance. According to Cooper, that has not changed. He said in 2005, the attorney general examined two federal cases and rendered the opinion that “any indication on the time a train may block a crossing must come from the federal government.”
“The one of importance to us is the Fifth Circuit case because it originated in a city in Texas addressing the Texas Anti-Blocking statute, a provision of the transportation code that says that a railroad company commits an offense if a train obstructs a street, railroad crossing or public highway for more than 10 minutes,” Cooper said. “As you know the city of Beaumont has a similar provision in its ordinances that prevents the blocking of railroad crossings for five or more consecutive minutes. Where it gets tricky is that railroad regulation and operations are now the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government. It has been that way for quite some time, actually since 1995. The jurisdiction is with the Surface Transportation Board (created as a result of the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995). The Fifth Circuit found that the regulation of rail transportation is the exclusive jurisdiction of this Surface Transportation Board. It preempts the remedies provided under state or local law, specifically that law being the Texas Anti-Blocking statute. ... As we sit here, the federal government has not spoken on the blocking of crossings in municipalities or state highways. So, the short answer is there’s not much we can do at a local level.”
Ward 2 Council Person Mike Getz asked Cooper if the council could draft a resolution and present such a resolution to Texas’ congressional representatives expressing Beaumont’s desire to enforce the five-minute rule established by the city council. Cooper said that was an option. Samuel and Smith agreed that would be a logical next step in the city’s long battle with the railroads and against delays caused by stopped trains at railroad crossings.
Sharon Brooks can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 241, or by e-mail at sharon [at] theexaminer [dot] com.