Hernandez files bill to regulate railroads blocking roadways

Rep. Ana Hernandez’ blocked railroad crossing law

By Allan Jamail

Austin, Tx. February 28, 2023, State Representative Ana Hernandez filed House Bill 2717 to address railroad safety concerns. According to the United States Government Accountability Office, freight train length has increased by 25 percent since 2008.

The increasing length has adverse impacts as trains travel across the country and through communities. This legislation will help reduce the frequency of blocked thoroughfares and harmful impacts affecting our neighborhoods. The bill will limit the length of trains that run through her district for extended periods of time blocking crossings. Hernandez’s district runs from the East side of Houston along the I-10 corridor to Baytown.

Hernandez said, “House Bill 2717 will restrict railroad train length to 8,500 feet. Limiting the train length will reduce the periods of time that grade crossings are blocked in our communities, which have been reported to last as long as 15 hours at a time.

“Longer trains are blocking major thoroughfares, impeding the mobility of first responders, obstructing street access for students walking to school, and jeopardizing the train crew members’ safety and communications, among other adverse impacts.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues, constituents, and stakeholders to make our communities safer and improve the safety of railroad crew members.”

According to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody, “This is a prime example of how the state has fallen so far behind in railroad grade-crossing improvements. We have the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund that voters passed over a decade ago, and the legislature hasn’t put the first dollar into it yet. We could be applying for federal competitive grants with a state match to build overpasses and underpasses and do other rail improvements to keep trains moving and not block cars and trucks at crossings.

According to documents from the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas receives about $20 million a year in a federal share for improving railroad crossings. There are no state funds set aside to match this effort.

“That’s hardly enough to build maybe one overpass across the entire state and Texas has 10,000 grade crossings,” according to LeCody. “The railroads want to be good neighbors and keep their trains moving but the state needs to be a partner in this effort too, and that hasn’t happened yet. With our state surplus and federal rail funds available from the Infrastructure bill, this is the best time to tackle this problem. Our Fair-Share-For-Rail campaign urges lawmakers to do a kick start appropriation and start tackling these issues.”

“The question remains if state regulated train length will pass a court challenge,” according to Texas Rail Advocates board member Josh Coran. “The ICC Termination Act prevents states from making laws regarding interstate transportation for things that are regulated at the federal level. This did away with length of time a crossing could be blocked and local speed ordinances for railroads, since the FRA regulates speed based on the class of track”.

Representative Hernandez is currently serving her ninth term in the Texas House of Representatives. She proudly represents District 143, which includes part of Houston (Second Ward, Magnolia Park, Denver Harbor, Port Houston, North Shore, Clinton Park), part of Baytown, the communities of Channelview and Cloverleaf, and the cities of Galena Park and Jacinto City.

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