Nebraska officials want answers on blocked rail crossings

A photograph of a train at a railroad crossing.

Nebraska officials are preparing to ask BNSF (NYSE: BRK), Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) and the Nebraska Central Railroad to take more action against blocked highway-rail grade crossings in Grand Island in Hall County.

The transportation department within the Nebraska Public Service Commission plans to file a formal complaint against the three railroads for violating Commission Rule 002.09D. State officials will give the railroads 20 days to respond before taking any additional action.

The filing follows an investigation and hearing by the commission. The commission decided on June 30 to direct the transportation department to file the complaint after hours of testimony from residents and railroad representatives at a Feb. 5 hearing.

The commission said it gave BNSF the opportunity to provide data on the dates and times of crossing blockings observed by citizens. BNSF responded that it didn’t keep daily train stoppage data and that it would be too burdensome to reconstruct the data, according to the commission.

The commission said it wanted the three railroads to “reach a solution” regarding the blocked crossings, but since the railroads could not reach an agreement on crew changeovers occurring at the crossings, state officials are intervening. 

“Without a resolution by the parties involved, we are left with no other option than to make our decision based upon the evidence and testimony presented to us and proceed with filing a formal complaint,” said Commission Chair Mary Ridder.

BNSF told FreightWaves it will review the complaint.

Nebraska currently doesn’t allow nonmoving freight trains to block highway-rail grade crossings for more than 10 minutes, barring an emergency.

The code also permits a one-time exception and allows for an additional 10 minutes under certain conditions. These conditions include situations when a train crew can’t complete a switching maneuver while setting out or picking up rail cars within 10 minutes; when a stopped train is allowing a second train to pass; and when a train that has been separated to prevent blocking a grade crossing must be recoupled and have air tests performed. 

If it looks like a train will block a grade crossing for more than 10 minutes, it could be cut to clear a passageway, according to the code.

The code also notes that “citations for noncompliance may be issued by local law enforcement authorities, but issuing these citations is problematic and seldom effective. The best resolution is to work with the railroad to come to some kind of accommodation.”

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

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