Senate sends train-stoppage bill to governor for consideration
A bill that would authorize local law operators to cite train owners or operators for blocking a road-rail intersection for longer than 10 minutes without good reason is headed down the tracks to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk.
The Senate on Wednesday approved a conference committee version of the measure by a 36 to 9 vote, also adopting an emergency clause that would put the law into effect upon the governor’s signature.
Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall, who authored the measure, applauded the Senate’s approval Wednesday afternoon. While he acknowledged the bill’s changes, he said the public safety issue it addresses remains the same.
“This is a good step forward in addressing that,” said McCall, R-Atoka, adding he would devote more attention to the issue in the future, if needed.
“It will go into effect immediately upon the governor’s signature, and that will really give us additional time to evaluate data that we will be able to collect as a result of this legislation.”
Like the original bill, the measure authorizes local police, deputy sheriffs and highway patrol troopers to issue citations to train operators for lengthy intersection blockages.
Its language mirrors existing Oklahoma Corporation Commission rules that require railroads operating in Oklahoma to minimize obstructions for emergency vehicles where possible and to avoid blocking a track-road intersection with a stopped train for longer than 10 minutes.
Those rules and the proposed law waive that time limit, however, when a train must be stopped because of an accident, derailment, critical mechanical failure, a washout of track or bridge or other emergency condition or order, and also grant a railroad operator a one-time exception of up to 10 additional minutes if a train and its crew, operating under the rules of the Federal Railroad Administration, can’t complete a switching maneuver to subtract or add railcars to a train’s consist any quicker.
Plus, they waive the time limit when a stopped train blocking an intersection is halted to allow passage of a second train that’s momentarily expected and when an operator separates a train’s consist to allow open a nearby road-rail intersection, even though others might remain blocked.
The House initially approved a bill that proposed a maximum fine of $10,000 for citations where the operator had been found to have violated the law. The Senate version, which had to be considered by committees on that side twice before it advanced, cut that to $5,000.
The conference committee version reduces the maximum fine to $1,000 and requires citations to be heard by an administrative law judge at the Corporation Commission, with a caveat a judge’s finding could be appealed to be heard by elected commissioners.
In addition to reducing the maximum fine, the substitute proposal also details that 75% of any collected fines shall be deposited into the general fund of the law enforcement entity that issued the citation.
It requires the remainder of fine dollars to be deposited into a revolving fund at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and requires the citation issuer to provide a copy of the citation and any information identifying the train to the agency.
The modified measure was approved by the House with its enabling language restored on Monday.