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‘Arrangement’ between CSX, 4th circuit lawyers on blocked railroad crossings

Railroad company CSX embraced a “precision railroading” model, one that led to staff cuts and a seeming uptick in trains lingering on tracks blocking roadways.

Since then, citizens in the Jacksonville/Baldwin area — and well beyond — have kvetched, per an email from John G. Kalinowski, an Assistant State Attorney in Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit.

In October, Kalinowski outlined what was then the protocol: “Generally a citation is sent to CSX, and they pay the $110/$250 for the citation depending on whether the Jacksonville Ordinance or the Baldwin Ordinance is used on the citation. They got a rash of them recently and contacted us about resolving them.”

By “rash,” Kalinowski means a whopping 34 citations.

The resolution, predictably, worked out in CSX’s favor, if a Nov. 27 email from Kalinowski to Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel is a good indicator.

“For now,” writes Kalinowski, “our arrangement is to have them plea and pay to a few of the citations and dismiss the others. If push comes to shove, we may be dealing with a challenge to the validity of the ordinance.”

People are predictably vexed: the assistant state attorney notes their inconveniences, which include “hourlong backups and people leaving their cars on foot to go attend to business.”

Alas, there may be no local remedy.

“One of my concerns that CSX counsel has raised is that the Jacksonville and Baldwin municipal ordinances are pre-empted by federal law. There’s some good authority that they are right,” Kalinowski writes, citing three cases.

Friberg v. Kansas City S. Ry. Co. (5th Cir. 2001): the Circuit Court Judge held that “the supremacy of federal law in the regulation of rail transportation cannot be denied.”

R.R. Ventures, Inc. v. Surface Transportation Board (6th Cir. 2002) and CSX Transportation v. City of Plymouth  (6th Cir. 2002) were other examples of cases where federal law pre-empted state and local ordinances barring trains from blocking tracks.

For drivers on Jacksonville area roads that have railroad crossings, here’s some advice: pack your lunch and bring a book. You might be waiting a while. And there’s nothing that can be done about it.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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