Police in Edmond were the first to take advantage of a new state law that allows local law enforcement to ticket trains that block public highways or streets for more than 10 minutes.
When a train stops in downtown Edmond, it typically blocks five crossings, Casey Moore, Edmond director of public relations, told Oklahoma City television station KWTV.
Under the new law, the train can be fined up to $1,000 after it has blocked traffic for 10 minutes. There are a number of exceptions within the law, including emergency situations.
Another citation was issued recently in Davis for a train that allegedly was stopped for 44 minutes and blocked three crossings, KWTV reports.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has jurisdiction over the cases, although railroads have maintained in the past that these sorts of issues are strictly covered by federal jurisdiction.
On this side of the state, the railroad issue has long been a bone of contention for the city of Claremore, where two train systems come together in a busy part of town.
City Manager Jim Thomas said the situation is still a problem, but improved substantially after he called a Washington, D.C., train summit in 2016 with the help of U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin. Claremore Police Chief Stan Brown said the city hasn’t seen a qualifying case since the law took effect July 1 and a number of complicating issues, including the potential for challenges to law, have led the city to maintain a watch-and-wait strategy.
The Oklahoma law aside, the law of physics tells us that two things can’t occupy the same space at the same time. Trains are long and when they stop in cities, it’s going to have unavoidable consequence.
Rail is an important part of our transportation network, but so are city streets. We’ve all sat there waiting for a train that isn’t going anywhere. It’s not surprising that legislators have responded. The Claremore situation shows that train companies can take some steps to accommodate local problems when pushed, and we’d suggest that they’d be well advised to use that strategy liberally or be ready to add state fines to their cost of business.
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