RICHMOND — The State Corporation Commission’s Division of Utility and Railroad Safety is joining a national effort to seek federal help on the growing safety issue of blocked railroad crossings.
"Today it is not uncommon to receive complaints from Virginia’s businesses and citizens of blocked crossings measured in hours, not minutes,” said Steve Bradley, director of the Division of Utility and Railroad Safety. “Blocked crossings can cause dangerous delays for police, fire, and other emergency responders, hinder basic mobility, and impede commerce. These scenarios pose a risk of serious injury, or worse."
Virginia is one of 35 states with laws or regulations limiting the amount of time trains may block crossings. These time periods typically range from five to 20 minutes. Railroad companies have contested such rules on the grounds of federal pre-emption.
The Association of State Railroad Safety Managers is urging the adoption of federal regulations to limit the amount of time a train may block a highway-rail grade crossing. The association recently circulated a resolution calling for federal legislation requiring the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to prescribe regulations making it unlawful for trains to block highway-rail grade crossings for longer than a specified period unless the train is stopped for mechanical or emergency reasons.
No federal regulations regarding the duration of blocked crossings currently exist. Many communities and businesses are impacted frequently by blocked crossings. The problem worsens as rail and highway traffic grows.
Virginians who experience issues are encouraged to report them to the Division of Utility and Railroad Safety at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Division works with the Federal Railroad Administration to ensure the safe operation of railroads in the Commonwealth of Virginia.