Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Rail Road’

District court rules Batory’s declaration of preemption stops Illinois 2PC law

In yet another example that elections have consequences, the Trump-appointed FRA administrator’s actions have potentially minimized both public and employee safety on the railroad.

In September 2019, after the State of Illinois enacted a law requiring that trains operated in Illinois be operated with a certified conductor and certified engineer, the Indiana Rail Road, which often operates with one-person crews over 250 miles of track in Illinois and Indiana, sued the Illinois Commerce Commission in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.

Backed by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA), the carrier challenged that newly signed state law.

In May 2019, just days after the Illinois Legislature had passed the law, Federal Railroad Administrator Ron Batory, who was appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, withdrew a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on crew size and declared that any state law regarding crew size was preempted.

In the Indiana Rail Road lawsuit, the carrier and lobbying groups repeatedly referred to “the wisdom” of Batory’s declaration of federal preemption. The Trump appointee has followed up with other FRA choices such as safety waivers for railroads during the COVID-19 pandemic and refusing to issue an emergency order on faulty air brake components.

“Ron Batory’s notice withdrawal absolutely paved the way for the district court to rule,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said. “We must keep in mind, however, that this issue is not yet settled. A larger discussion in court remains ahead, as the judgment states.”

Indeed, the district court noted that the issue of validity of the FRA’s action, which was raised by SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, was not properly before it and as such, the action stood for the time being.

The court went on to note that those issues are currently pending before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals involving a challenge by the states of California, Washington and Nevada, along with SMART-TD and BLET, as to the FRA’s compliance with the required APA procedures and its ability to declare state law preempted.

Oral argument was heard in that case Monday, October 5, 2020. The court has taken the matter under advisement and will issue a decision hopefully in the near future.

“It is worth noting that if the Ninth Circuit later holds that the FRA Withdrawal Order is invalid, then the Illinois Commerce Commission may move to vacate the judgment,” the district court ruling stated regarding the Illinois case.

The Illinois Commerce Commission, which would have enforced the law, was joined by SMART-TD and the BLET in defending the two-person crew law.

The court’s ruling effectively voids enforcement of the law, which took effect in January.

Read the ruling.

Carrier sues Illinois to stop two-person crew law

Indiana Rail Road, with the backing of the major rail carrier organizations, has filed suit challenging a law requiring two people on freight crews in Illinois, the Courthouse News Service reported.

“The recent history of railroads confirms the wisdom of FRA’s expert determination that minimum-crew-size laws are neither necessary nor appropriate,” the carriers said in their filing. “In recent decades, technological breakthroughs have allowed railroads to gradually decrease average crew sizes—from about five in the 1960s to just two today—while compiling an ever-improving record of safety. Now, the nation’s railroads are poised to deliver even safer and more efficient service.”

The filing repeatedly referenced the Federal Railroad Administration’s withdrawal of its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that occurred in late May. In the NPRM, FRA Administrator Ron Batory announced that his agency was acting with the intention to pre-empt any state laws regarding rail crew size. Indiana Rail Road, a regional railroad that operates over 250 miles of track in Illinois and Indiana, began using one-person crews in 1997.

The FRA’s NPRM withdrawal is being challenged in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Nevada by SMART TD, Illinois and a number of other states. Illinois on Aug. 9 became the seventh state overall and third this year to enact two-person crew legislation. The Illinois law is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

The lawsuit, which also lists the Association of American Railroads and American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association as plaintiffs, was filed Sept. 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.

Indiana Rail Road backs single-person train crews

During each shift, Frank Rodriguez typically operates an Indiana Rail Road Co. (INRD) train by himself from Indianapolis to Switz City, Ind., and back. The locomotive engineer has covered the 180-mile round trip as a one-person crew for more than 10 years.

Although there isn’t anyone to talk to during the trips, Rodriguez prefers to operate a train alone instead of being paired with a crew member who might be difficult to work with.

Read the complete story at Progressive Railroading.