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Delaware appeals oil train idling decision

Delaware Public Media

Delaware officials are appealing in court after a federal regulator overruled a recently passed state law that heavily restricts overnight train idling.



The Surface Transportation Board ruled in February that the General Assembly is interfering with interstate commerce – over which the federal government has sole control – despite state backers saying the law is "narrowly tailored" .


The law, championed by Senate Majority Leader David McBride (D-Hawk's Nest), outlaws train idling between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. except for a handful of reasons. It also allows local police to levy stiff fines against rail companies for violating the law, ranging between $5,000 and $10,000 for the first offense and up to $20,000 after that.


It mostly targets Norfolk Southern Railway trains carrying bulk oil for processing at the Delaware City Refinery, which can line up for hours next to residential streets while waiting to dump their cargo.


In its decision, the board says Delaware can’t legally choose how companies manage themselves and that local fines are “burdensome on railroads and unreasonably interferes” in their operations.


"I think this is a just law that provides a railroad’s neighbors the right to enjoy their property – a right that is taken away when a train is idling spewing diesel exhaust fumes, in some cases, only a few feet away," McBride said in a statement.


"The railroads have thumbed their noses at us, continuing to idle trains in our backyards and blasting their horns excessively as they move through our neighborhoods," said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear), another sponsor of the bill. "With this lawsuit, we’re reinforcing our message to them that the state of Delaware will not be ignored.”

Oral arguments before the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals could take until March, with a decision not likely until the fall of 2017.

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