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MADISON - Responding to an inquiry from Douglas County District Attorney Daniel W. Blank, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today issued an informal opinion addressing the impact of the Federal Railroad Safety Authorization Act ("FRSA") upon section 192.292 of the Wisconsin Statutes, which prohibits trains from blocking highways at railroad crossings outside of cities for longer than ten minutes unless there is an accident.
Van Hollen reviewed state and federal case law concerning the effect of the FRSA upon state anti-blocking statutes and local anti-blocking ordinances and concluded that under current case law a court would likely hold that the FRSA prohibits the enforcement of state anti-blocking laws (section 192.292 of Wisconsin law).
Van Hollen noted that twenty-eight states have enacted statutes similar to section 192.292. Van Hollen also indicated that a petition for certiorari is pending before the United States Supreme Court in connection with a January 25, 2008 decision of the Illinois Supreme Court holding that the FRSA prevents the City of Mundelein, Illinois from enforcing an anti-blocking ordinance prohibiting trains from blocking streets at railroad crossings for more than ten minutes unless the train is continuously moving or cannot be moved due to an accident or other circumstances beyond the railroad company's control.
Van Hollen concluded by stating that the issue presented by Blank's inquiry would be clarified if the Supreme Court were to grant certiorari in the Illinois case.
A copy of the original request and Attorney General Van Hollen's informal opinion can be found below: