From The Trussville Tribune staff

A bill was filed to prohibit trains from blocking railroad crossings on Thursday, Jan. 13.

According to the Alabama Legislature, the bill was read for the first time and introduced into the House of Representatives. The bill states that it “would provide that, except for trains stopped due to mechanical failure where separation or movement is not possible, and except for trains stopped as required by federal law, any train that has come to a complete stop and is blocking a railroad-highway grade crossing shall be cut, separated, or moved to clear the crossing upon the approach of any authorized emergency vehicle.”

If a train is found to be blocking a crossing, this “bill would deem the operator of a train that blocks a railroad-highway grade crossing for two or more continuous hours to be a public nuisance and would levy a civil penalty of $5,000 for each additional hour the train blocks the railroad-highway grade crossing. The civil penalty would be limited to $50,000 per day.”

Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) said the railroad companies claim the problem is related to the supply chain and the labor force. 

“What they were doing was loading up trains... (they had a problem with trying to get trains loaded), ... and just sending them to the destination,” Garrett said. “But the problem was, they didn’t have workers there to unload the trains, [resulting in] bottlenecks.  Because of supply chain issues, all the train schedules were off. It was a logistical nightmare.”

Garrett explained that there needs to be a plan to make sure these crossings remain open, but the railroad companies were unwilling to adjust any of their planning or even plan around the problems that arose from blocking a crossing. 

The bill states that if the railroad crossing were blocked, law enforcement and emergency medical services would not be able to reach people in need. These roadways remaining open to first responders is considered “a primary and essential service to the health and well-being of the people of the State of Alabama,” because “the fast response by law enforcement officers and firefighters is often the difference between life and death or permanent disability to those persons in the State of Alabama making use of such services in an emergency.”

“My problem was, they didn’t have a plan to play around those logistics,” Garrett said. “I understand about scheduling and bottlenecks, but when you know [you've] got all those problems in front of you, you have to plan around it. What their solution was, ‘we’re just going to send all the trains we can when they’re ready.’ In the case of Trussville, you had a train that was blocking a crossing for 10 days.”

When trains block crossings, it is considered “negligent blocking” because it prevents first responders from reaching people in need.

Suppose a train blocks a crossing for more than two hours. In that case, the train is considered a “public nuisance” and has to “be cut, separated, or moved to clear the crossing upon the approach of any authorized emergency vehicle.”

If passed, the bill will go into effect on the first day of the third month following its passage and approval by the Governor.