February 27, 2023 - TRA Austin -
Texas Representative Ana Hernandez (District-143) has filed a bill in the House to limit the length of trains that run through her district, citing that long trains block railroad crossings for extended periods of time. Hernandez's district runs from the East side of Houston along the I-10 corridor to Baytown.
House Bill 2717 would modify the state transportation code by limiting the maximum length of trains to 8,500 feet.
The language of the bill states "a railroad may not operate or permit to be operated on any part of a rail line in this state a train that is 8,500 feet in length or longer."
"It's gotten a state representative's attention from her constituents that something needs to be done about long trains that block railroad crossings for long periods of time," according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. ""This is a prime example of how the state has fallen so far behind in railroad grade-crossing improvements. We have the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund that voters passed over a decade ago and the legislature hasn't put the first dollar into it yet. We could be applying for federal competitive grants with a state match to build overpasses and underpasses and do other rail improvements to keep trains moving and not block cars and trucks at crossings."
According to documents from the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas receives about $20 million a year in a federal share for improving railroad crossings. There are no state funds set aside to match this effort. "That's hardly enough to build maybe one overpass across the entire state and Texas has 10,000 grade crossings," according to LeCody. "The railroads want to be good neighbors and keep their trains moving but the state needs to be a partner in this effort too, and that hasn't happened yet. With our state surplus and federal rail funds available from the Infrastructure bill, this is the best time to tackle this problem. Our Fair-Share-For-Rail campaign urges lawmakers to do a kickstart appropriation and start tackling these issues."
"The question remains if state regulated train length will pass a court challenge," according to Texas Rail Advocates board member Josh Coran. "The ICC Termination Act prevents states from making laws regarding interstate transportation for things that are regulated at the federal level. This did away with length of time a crossing could be blocked and local speed ordinances for railroads, since the FRA regulates speed based on the class of track".
Photo credit: AAR