News & Reviews News Wire BNSF, CPKC say they won’t pay new Minnesota safety fee

BNSF, CPKC say they won’t pay new Minnesota safety fee

By Trains Staff | March 30, 2024

Railroads cite federal preemption of state legislation in letters regarding decision

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Firefighters watching burning railcars
Firefighters observe burning railcars after the BNSF derailment in Raymond, Minn.., on March 30, 2023. BNSF and CPKC have said they will not pay a new safety fee stemming from legislation introduced as a result of this incident. Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office via Facebook

ST. PAUL, Minn. — BNSF Railway and CPKC, the two largest railroads in Minnesota, do not plan to make payments of approximately $1 million to the state required by a law passed last year, saying the state legislation is “pre-empted by federal law.”

KSTP-TV reports the two railroads notified the Minnesota Department of Public Safety of the decision in letters sent last month.

The fees were established by the final version of a bill introduced the day after a derailment and fire in Raymond, Minn. [see “Minnesota legislators consider rail safety legislation,” Trains News Wire, April 1, 2023]. It requires the state to assess fees, based on route-miles in the state, to all railroads to pay for six rail safety inspector positions. It also requires railroads to offer safety training to fire departments and local emergency management organizations and sets a 15-minute limit for railroads to notify first responders of incidents involving hazardous materials, among other provisions. As part of a broader transportation finance and policy bill, it passed the state’s House 69-58, the Senate 34-32, and was signed by Gov. Tim Walz last May.

State Sen. Scott Dibble (Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, Minneapolis) told the station the railroads’ decision was “like a bolt out of the blue and a complete shock.” The railroads, asked to comment, referred the station to the Minnesota Regional Railroads Association, which KSTP says responded with a lengthy statement that noted railroads already train first responders, that rail incidents in the state are down 46%, and that the fee is unfair because the state does not collect similar assessments from other modes of transportation handling hazardous materials.

Dibble dismissed the claim that the legislation is illegal, saying “the railroads are always resisting any efforts we make toward public safety improvements … by citing federal preemption. They’re almost always wrong, and I’m sure they’re wrong in this case, as well.” He said the state may have to file a lawsuit if the railroads refuse to pay.

12 thoughts on “BNSF, CPKC say they won’t pay new Minnesota safety fee

  1. This is what happen when you elect poorly educated people and give them authority. I am certain someone had good intentions, but it appears another village has lost its idiot. Villages have a duty to take care of the village idiot, but you don’t have to elect them.

  2. I see the public school system has done its usual fine job of educating students about civics and government. Anyone who would suggest that legislation should be passed to “avenge” or “harshly punish” anything or anyone hasn’t the first idea about the legislative process and what good, honest legislation is for. Laws, like railroad operating rules, are passed in an attempt to ensure that proper safety procedures are established and enforced to prevent incidents that result in the loss of life and/or destruction of property. Where state or local legislative bodies have jurisdiction to pass and enforce such laws they have the right and obligation to do so. Defining the line between state and federal authority is up to the courts. I’m not sure what the answer to that question is in this case, but it damned sure isn’t to “get” a person or corporation. That’s opening the door to complete legal chaos.
    And wait until someone in government decides they want to come after you.

  3. Does Minnesota need Class 1 railroads? Suppose CPKC and BNSF decided to do a complete wreck-out, never to return?

  4. I hope Trains News Wire stays on top of this story. If you click through to the earlier News Wire article, and then click on the bill number (SF 3187), you can read what was passed into law. A tax based on mileage operated that pays for government safety programs and personnel strikes me as qualitatively different than most “federal pre-emption” disputes we read about here, which typically go to how a railroad operates internally (crew size, length of trains, etc). Setting aside for the moment whether these safety programs are a good idea or not, we might all learn something from how this unfolds.

  5. These state legislative adventures may only stop if those legislators (and Governor) are penalized for their actions. Say $1,000 for each legislator who voted for the law and $2,000 for the Governor who signed it. Plus paying the railroads for all expenses involved in defending themselves.

    1. Nah, the Class 1’s need to stop acting like they’re beholden to no one….

    2. The only thing that will stop Class Is from acting like lawless thugs is start harshly punishing them for their terrible safety record.

      The Empire Builder passengers who died because BNSF is a trash company need to be avenged.

  6. “like a bolt out of the blue and a complete shock.” At a conference a politico remarked that dealing with a named class 1 was like dealing with a sovereign nation. Rightly or wrongly this state Congresscritter needs to learn that lesson.

  7. Many have tried, few have prevailed…another waste of taxpayer money. When will these people get a grip on what Federal Railroad Administration actually has the power to do.

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