.....Frustrated with delays caused by idle trains, two North Dakota towns have taken action to limit the time trains may block railroad crossings.[2] One town—Enderlin—passed an ordinance to that effect in October 2014.[3] Last week, the Enderlin City Council repealed its ordinance in response to a lawsuit and pending preliminary injunction motion filed by Canadian Pacific.[4]

The other town—Berthold—chose a different route. Berthold ordered its police chief to ticket railroads for blocking both the town’s crossings for more than 20 minutes.[5] Rather than pass its own ordinance, Berthold relies on a seemingly little enforced provision of the North Dakota Century Code.[6] Now, BNSF Railway engineers face a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and up to a $1,500 fine under state law for blocking railroad crossings in Berthold.[7]

While Enderlin backed down from its ordinance in the face of Canadian Pacific’s lawsuit, Berthold’s action presents a different hurdle. If BNSF files a lawsuit, BNSF will not be suing a small municipality with limited financial means for extraneous litigation costs. Rather, BNSF must challenge the validity of a state statute, which likely requires the North Dakota Attorney General to defend that law.[8] And unlike the Enderlin City Council quickly repealing its ordinance, the North Dakota Legislature is unlikely to take any action related to the lawsuit.

Although the towns’ actions directly target railroads, if validated by a court, similar ordinances and state laws could induce further delay into a railroad infrastructure already overburdened with record traffic. Furthermore, additional North Dakota municipalities—and potentially towns in other states with similar laws—may begin enforcing the railroad crossing prohibition.....    more here