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Senate Rules Committee puts trains bill back on track

A Union Pacific train is photographed about a year ago as it moves east, parallel to Interstate 40, near the Bricktown Riverwalk Park. [Oklahoman Archives]
A Union Pacific train is photographed about a year ago as it moves east, parallel to Interstate 40, near the Bricktown Riverwalk Park. [Oklahoman Archives]

A bill attempting to address numerous communities’ problems with stopped trains is rolling down the tracks once again.

A committee substitute for House Bill 2472, authored by House Speaker Charles McCall and state Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, passed the Senate Rules Committee 10-to-1 Thursday morning.

The committee’s vote sends the measure to the full Senate.

Like the original bill, the committee substitute aims to create a state statute allowing local law officers to issue citations when trains block a road-rail intersection for longer than 10 minutes without good reason.

The two measures differ only in the amount of fine that could be assessed as part of a guilty plea or conviction, cutting it from $10,000 to $5,000.

Only one senator sits on both committees, and that senator changed his vote.

State Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, voted against the measure as a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, noting his concerns about the size of potential fines it proposed.

But in Thursday morning’s Rules Committee meeting, he supported the modified measure. He couldn’t be reached later in the day to provide comment about his votes.

Beyond the size of the fine, members of the Senate Transportation Committee who considered HB 2472 earlier in the week worried an Oklahoma law might not prevail in court, given that it preempts federal oversight of railroads.

However, in an interview earlier this week, McCall said his understanding was that some state laws had survived court challenges.

McCall, R-Atoka, added he believed Oklahoma’s law also could survive since it incorporates already existing Corporation Commission rules that allow for exceptions on the 10 minute limit when certain conditions exist or when the railroad operator is performing certain tasks, such as adding or substracting cars to a train’s consist.

Simpson has said he backs the proposed law because of life-safety concerns caused when emergency personnel can’t reach accidents, fires or health emergencies because a train is blocking a road-rail intersection.

McCall, who also couldn’t be reached Thursday, previously cited those concerns as motivation behind the measure.

Earlier, the speaker said previous attempts local officials and his office had made to work with railroad officials to address problems caused by lengthy stoppages hadn’t brought any lasting resolution.

Jack Money

Jack Money has worked for The Oklahoman for more than 20 years. During that time, he has worked for the paper’s city, state, metro and business news desks, including serving for a while as an assistant city editor. Money has won state and regional... Read more ›