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Illinois Blocked-Crossing Law Is Preempted, State Supreme Court Rules

Until recently, under the Illinois Vehicle code (625 ILCS 5/18c–7402(1)(b)), trains that blocked any road crossing for more than 10 minutes were subject to traffic tickets. That law was overturned in January when the state Supreme Court ruled that the blocked-crossing law violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Federal Railroad Safety Authorization Act (FRSA). The opinion in Eagle Marine Industries, Inc. v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, 102462 (January 2008), a business dispute, reversed a preliminary injunction against Union Pacific issued by a circuit court in Sauget, near St. Louis, and upheld by an appeals court. It relies on the same court’s decision earlier that month in The Village of Mundelein v. Wisconsin Central Railroad, 103543 (January 2008), which upheld an appellate court’s decision to vacate a large fine against the railroad.

In Mundelein, the village issued a $14,000 fine to Wisconsin Central under a local ordinance that prohibited a train blocking a highway-grade crossing for more than 10 minutes unless it had broken down or was continuously moving. The Wisconsin Central train blocked such a crossing for 157 minutes. At the ensuing trial, the court rejected the argument that the FRSA preempted the local law. However, that decision was reversed on appeal.

The Illinois Supreme Court agreed, saying that Mundelein’s ordinance, which is based on Illinois’ state law, interfered too much with the FRSA. Because Eagle Marine relied on the state law, the court said, it had to decide that case in the same way as Mundelein. Thus, the Illinois blocked-crossing provision and any local laws based on it were preempted by FRSA and therefore void.