Thursday, December 6, 2007

A local question with broader impact

Pleasant Prairie resident John Braig, who chairs the village's Board of Review and sits on the Plan Commission, complained Monday night about how long trains block grade crossings in the village.

His frustration is understandable and the law offers little relief.

Here's what Wisconsin law says: "192.292 Trains obstructing highways. It shall be unlawful to stop any railroad train, locomotive or car upon or across any highway or street crossing, outside of cities, or leave the same standing upon such crossing longer than 10 minutes, except in cases of accident; and any railroad company that shall violate this section shall be liable to a fine of not more than $500 or any officer of such company responsible for the violation shall be liable to imprisonment of not more than 15 days."

So, while this law applies in the village, it only covers trains that stop or are left standing. Further, an attempt by the Village of Sturtevant to enact a stricter ordinance was shot down by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals which said that only the state may regulate this area of law.

The legislature, of course, can change this, if it wants, and with Assemblyman John P. Steinbrink, sr., as village president, maybe some relief from Madison is in order. The law needs to read that a train can't obstruct any highway grade crossing anywhere in the state for more than ten minutes and the penalty needs to be revised to a civil forfeiture of no less than $1,000. Plus the law should be put in the traffic code so police can issue citations on the spot (which makes for easier enforcement).

For a look at how other states deal with this, the Federal Railroad Administration complied this list.

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