January 12, 2023 - TRA Austin -

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has joined an Indiana-led cert-stage amicus brief that calls for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a case that would allow states to set standards and penaltiesvwhen trains block a railroad crossing for an extended period of time.

Paxton is joining with the Indiana request saying that local emergency services can not carry out their duties in a timely manner when blocked by trains.

In State of Ohio v. CSX Transportation, the Ohio Supreme Court recently held that an Ohio “anti-blocking” law that prohibits railroad companies from allowing their stopped trains to block railroad crossings for more than five minutes was preempted by federal law. Texas and other states are arguing that the Ohio Supreme Court is wrong.

Similar cases have popped up across the country, due in large part to two federal laws: the Federal Railroad Safety Act, enacted in 1970, and the Interstate Commerce Termination Act, enacted in 1995. While these two statutes do grant the federal government some authority over the regulation of the railroad industry, the brief that Paxton joined contends that nowhere do they strip power from the states to enact anti-blocking laws.

A news release from the Texas Attorney General's office said "To the serious detriment of communities across the country, some courts have unjustifiably expanded the scope of the two federal laws and allowed blocking to become all too prevalent. Beyond simply being an inconvenience to commuters, blockings have historically imperiled the ability of local emergency services to aid those in need."

A solution to blocked railroad crossings in Texas is to put money into the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund, according to Texas Rail Advocates. "TxDOT could put overpasses and underpasses in place where there are rail choke-points and crossing issues and this problem would be solved, if state lawmakers will give them the funding", according to TRA President Peter LeCody. "With the current Infrastructure law we have a once-in-a-generation chance to have federal rail grants pick up to 80% of the cost of crossing improvements if we were serious about this issue. Attorney General Paxton is looking for a band-aid solution with another layer of laws when all it takes is the will of our lawmakers to spend part a miniscule part of our state surplus on these rail crossing issues."

The brief indicated that “In recent years, too many emergency vehicles have arrived too late to save lives; too many EMTs have risked life and limb climbing over trains to reach those in need; too many fires have burned while emergency crews detoured miles out of the way; and too many communities have been bisected for days waiting for train crews to unblock intersections. Blocked grade crossings have serious—sometimes life-threatening—consequences for everyday Americans.”

Photo credit: Texas Department of Transportation