Expanding Railroad Responsibility

One piece of legislation heard this year would play a pivotal role in increasing protections for communities along rail lines. The bill updates statute so that railroad corporations are responsible for damages to every person and private or public entity whose property would be potentially damaged by fire caused by railroads. The fire must be spread or caused by the rolling stock or the contents of the rolling stock, a spill, tear, discharge, or combustion of train contents.

The second component holds railroads liable for response expenses when a fire or other emergency is caused by a railroad locomotive, a train car, or employees on a railroad right-of-way, operating property, or other property. If a fire department or other emergency responder responds and deems a railroad responsible under this provision, they must give the railroad notice within 60 days. If the railroad refuses to repay the expenses, the claimant may recover, by civil action, various expenses outlined in the bill. There is also a section outlining necessary expense claim information.

This bill updates statute to ensure the public will be protected for emergency expenses caused by railroad operations, like the derailments and explosions that have occurred across the US and Canada. The bill would add to railroad safety reforms the Legislature passed last session.

The changes were aimed at ensuring communities along the rail lines would be prepared to respond to emergency situations. The rail safety package last year included requiring railroad companies to submit disaster prevention and emergency plans, increased the number of state rail inspectors, codified derailment and spill response times, and provided additional emergency response training for local emergency responders. (S.F. 1705)

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