By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A bill introduced in the state Senate this week would prohibit trains from blocking streets for more than 20 minutes or else face up to $5,000 in fines.
Introduced by state Sen. Deborah Jeanne Dawkins, D-Pass Christian, the bill would apply statewide and incrementally increase fines depending on how long the train blocked traffic. Penalties start at $500 and cap at $5,000.
It doesn’t apply in the case of mechanical failure, derailment, natural disaster or during circumstances beyond the railroad’s control.
Dawkins wasn’t available for comment.
The bill holds interest for Tupelo because an estimated two dozen trains intersect the city each day. They interrupt traffic at several busy streets, including Crosstown at Gloster and Main streets, and often take up to five minutes to pass.
In addition, a downtown switching yard allows trains to exchange cargo and perform other maneuvers requiring them to stop, back up, stop again, go forward, and finally proceed. Those procedures can block traffic for 10 minutes or more.
But they rarely take more time than that, said Joe Faust, spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the busiest railroad through Tupelo.
“We follow the general code of operating rules,” Faust said. “The general rule is 10 minutes at a crossing without being in any violation. That’s for a train that’s absolutely stopped.
“If a train is moving, even if it’s very slowly, there is no limit to how much time it has to cross.”
The proposed bill, SB2337, also exempts moving trains. Only trains at a dead stop would come under fire.
Tupelo Chief Operating Office Darrell Smith said he doesn’t get many complaints about stopped trains in Tupelo, saying the last call he took on the subject was about six months ago.
The most notorious train delay in Tupelo occurred about a decade ago when a conductor blocked downtown traffic for several minutes to get food from Burger King.