New legislation at the South Carolina statehouse addresses concern about roadway obstructions caused by trains.
Rep. Todd Rutherford, House Democratic leader, has introduced a bill to significantly increase the penalty for train and railroad companies that block roadways for longer than five minutes.
Rutherford, D-Richland, said the issue threatens “quality of life, public safety, and economic growth.” He adds that trains and other objects impeding traffic are “too common of occurrences, in both urban and rural communities, across South Carolina.”
State law now sets a maximum penalty for obstruction of a roadway at $20.
The city of Columbia has a four-decade-old ordinance with the same penalty. The ordinance applies only to stopped trains or trains that are moving or switching cars.
The bill, H4511, would set fines at $5,000 per lane blocked. The fine would increase to $10,000 per land blocked if the violation occurs between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
“We cannot allow trains and obstructions to paralyze our roadways,” Rutherford said in prepared remarks. “It is my hope that increased penalties and improved enforcement of the law will keep our roads clear and our cars moving.”
Critics question whether the legislation would do any good to resolve delays. They point out that law enforcement would have to investigate why a particular train is stopped, which could add to the length of the delay.
In addition, they note that city and state train laws can be overridden by federal regulations on trains.
A similar effort introduced by Rutherford and Rep. Robert Williams, D-Darlington, addresses the concern. H4441 would permit the state to adopt a more stringent law to eliminate or reduce blockages as long as it is “not incompatible with a law, regulation, or order of the United States government, and does not unreasonably burden interstate commerce.”
The bill adds that the General Assembly believes that Congress intended federal rule to preempt all railroad safety legislation except state law that “is stricter than federal regulations when necessary to address local problems.”
H4441 would cover four-lane intersections blocked for more than five minutes in a one hour period – specifically time periods between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., noon and 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The bills are in committee.
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