Thursday, October 25, 2012

People v. BNSF R.R. (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 16, 2012)

The California Public Utilities Commission passed an order that essentially says that railroads can't block an intersection for more than 20 10 minutes (!) without a good reason. You can see why.  It's a big hassle for automobiles/passengers/pedestrians to wait at a train crossing for a long, long time.  It may even be a safety issue.  Can you imagine how bummed you would be if you were in an ambulance on the way to the emergency room and had to spend a half hour or so at a train crossing?  Bummer.

But the Burlington Northern Santa Fee Railroad occasionally violates that rule.  Sometimes it blocks intersections for as long as two hours (!).  Fairly regularly, even.

Eventually, the City Attorney of Richmond got fed up, and filed a misdemeanor complaint against BNSF for violating the order.  BNSF was convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of $1000.  But BNSF wasn't done.  It filed an appeal.  Paying far more than $1000 on attorney's fees.  For the principle of the thing.  The principle of getting to block street traffic for hours at a time and not letting the state do anything about it.

The Court of Appeal agrees this is a valid principle.  Reversing BNSF's conviction on grounds of federal preemption.

Those pesky states.  Always getting in the way of progress.