Kansas court considers BNSF challenge to railroad regulation

photo by: AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File

In this Tuesday, April 4, 2017 AP file photo, a BNSF Railway train transporting grain passes through Bartlett, Iowa.

Story updated at 5:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21.

WICHITA — BNSF Railway is challenging a Kansas law that limits how long trains can block intersections.

The Kansas Court of Appeals heard arguments Thursday in the case involving a lengthy blockage of two Chase County railroad crossings in December 2016, the Wichita Eagle reported. The Texas-based railway company’s court challenge could have ramifications for railroad crossings throughout Kansas.

The law in question says railroads can only block a crossing for 10 minutes.

The Chase County Sheriff’s Office cited BNSF, alleging the company parked a train on a siding for four hours and blocked the only crossings that provide access to several farms.

BNSF denies the length of the blockage and argues that the state doesn’t have a right to regulate how long a train can block a crossing.

“That power is vested solely in the federal government,” said Jody Sanders, the company’s attorney.

Sanders said that the federal government had pre-empted state control over railroads because they’re engaged in interstate commerce and can’t be expected to comply with a patchwork of regulations across the country.

But State Solicitor General Kristafer Ailslieger said the federal government doesn’t regulate how long trains can block crossings. Without state law, companies could block crossings “without any time limit or remedy,” Ailslieger said.

“A railroad could dispose of a dilapidated locomotive in the middle of Main Street,” he said.

The state also argued that BNSF’s four-hour-long blockage in 2016 created a public safety issue.

“Emergency vehicles could not get through and the people on the other side could not get out,” he said.

The court expects to issue a ruling on the case in the next few months.


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