Canadian Pacific sues small town for ordinance prohibiting road blockages

Source: Dickinson Press

Railroad company sues Enderlin for ordinance targeting trains blocking roads

ENDERLIN — This city of 886 in southeast North Dakota people picked a fight with a multibillion-dollar railroad company when it passed an ordinance this month banning trains from blocking roadways and sidewalks for more than 10 minutes.
Now the railroad company, Canadian Pacific, is suing the city in federal court and asking for the ordinance to be struck down, plus legal fees.
“In using its police powers to enact and enforce the ordinance, the City is attempting to directly regulate interstate commerce,” Canadian Pacific argued in a civil complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota.
The Enderlin City Council passed the ordinance out of frustration with trains blocking roads for up to four hours at a time, Mayor Deon Maasjo said.
“It’s been an ongoing process, and it just seems to be getting worse,” he said.
Maasjo said the long wait times are more than a nuisance; they’re a public safety problem for a town that depends on a volunteer fire department that would need to make a detour around Highway 46 to reach the fire hall if a train blocks the way.
The ordinance, which went into effect Oct. 8, carries a minimum mandatory two-day jail sentence and $500 fine if the train blocks roads or sidewalks for more than 10 minutes. If there is no person present, the company responsible would be fined $750.
Maasjo said the ordinance is modeled after existing state law prohibiting trains from blocking roads for more than 10 minutes.
Ransom County Sheriff Darren Benneweis said under state law his officers are instructed to contact the railroad company after receiving a complaint. Officers are then supposed to write down the train conductor’s name and forward it to the Ransom County state’s attorney.
Canadian Pacific blamed the long wait times on “rail operations, including setting out and picking up cars for local industry, building trains, changing crews, and conducting federally mandated air brake testing and inspections, among other activities,” according to the civil complaint.
“These activities result in blocked grade crossings for more than ten minutes and have for many years.”
The city’s new ordinance has not been enforced, Benneweis said.
Robin Forward, an attorney for Canadian Pacific, did not respond to a request for comment