Oklahomans could see fewer traffic delays due to trains, thanks to a new law.
The law, which went into effect July 1, institutes a fine of $1,000 for trains that block crossings for more than 10 minutes.
Before everyone jumps for joy too much, keep this in mind: There are many exemptions in the new law that could allow trains to legally block intersections for 20 minutes or longer.
House Bill 2472 allows trains and crews to block intersections if a train is stopped for an “emergency condition” like accident, derailment, mechanical failure, washouts, storms, floods or other situations deemed emergent by the railroad.
Crews also can receive additional time if they’re operating under Federal Railroad Administration rules, can’t complete switching maneuvers or have to stop to allow the passage of another train.
There also is some question as to whether counties and cities even have the authority to enforce railroad laws or if that’s the responsibility of federal authorities.
As it is written, the law would allow local or state law enforcement authorities to write tickets.
Those tickets then would be processed by Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
In 2018, OCC received 224 blocked crossing complaints. Of those, 222 of those trains would have fallen under the exemptions written into the new law. That means only two of the trains reported to OCC could have been subject to a ticket and fine.
State Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, who voted for the law, said blocked intersections are a common constituent complaint in his city. He also said he was hopeful his vote would send a message to railroads to work together with communities.
“I really believe the railroads want to be good neighbors,” he said.
McBride said he believes rail companies are doing a better job than they were a few months ago.
We honestly can’t see that many tickets will be written, and we don’t see many fines being collected. Law enforcement doesn’t have the manpower to spend too much time each day monitoring railroad crossing.
What we do hope is — like McBride said — that railroads work with communities and try to follow the spirit of the law.