Indiana Supreme Court strikes down state law that fines railroad companies for blocking roads

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indiana Supreme Court threw out a state law allowing local authorities to fine train companies for blocking streets.

In a ruling handed down Monday, the state’s highest court struck down the law, saying a federal law—the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA)—superseded it. The federal rule prevents states from interfering with the operation of trains.

Norfolk Southern Railway Co. had asked the court to dismiss 23 citations it received in Allen County. The company challenged the state’s blocked-crossing statute, which allowed local authorities to fine railroads a minimum of $200 for blocking roads for at least 10 minutes.

Here’s the statute:

It shall be unlawful for a railroad corporation to permit any train, railroad car or engine to obstruct public travel at a railroad–highway grade crossing for a period in excess of ten (10) minutes, except where such train, railroad car or engine cannot be moved by reason of circumstances over which the railroad corporation has no control.

In order to comply, the company said it would have to run trains at higher speeds, employ shorter trains or pull trains apart at crossings to prevent blocking roads. In its opinion, the Supreme Court said this essentially amounted to regulating the operation of trains on the state’s part.

In a previous ruling, the Indiana Court of Appeals said federal law didn’t pre-empt the state statute. Without such a statute, the appeals court ruled, railroads could potentially block roads for hours without repercussions.

But Monday’s ruling overturned that decision, with the Indiana Supreme Court’s concluding:

While the presumption against preemption applies in this railroad-crossing context, the ICCTA’s preemption provision unambiguously preempts Indiana’s blocked-crossing statute. We thus affirm summary judgment for Norfolk Southern.

You can read the court’s opinion here.