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Federal appeals court rules against Delaware oil train idling law

Delaware Public Media

An effort by First State lawmakers to limit the idling of oil trains passing through the state has been shot down.


A federal appeals court said “no” to a Delaware law created two years ago to reduce noise and air pollution for residents living near oil train lines.

In an 11-page opinion, a 3 judge panel in U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously backed a ruling by the Surface Transportation Board that the law violates the federal government’s jurisdiction over rail carriers.


The state had sought to have that ruling overturned or returned to the board for further consideration.


The law aimed to ban trains from idling between the hours of 8 pm and 7 am, unless necessary for crew safety or work-related electrical or mechanical operations.


In its ruling, the board said the law constitutes Delaware attempting to substitute its judgment for the railroads’ regarding when trains need to idle. The board argued what the First State considers non-essential may in fact be important for the proper operation.   The appeals court backed the board.


“I’m disappointed, but not surprised by this,” said the bill's sponsor Senate President Pro Tem David McBride (D- Hawk's Nest) in a statement. “We know that, historically, the courts have supported the federal government’s control of railroads. We had hoped our narrowly crafted law could provide some relief, but the courts didn’t see it that way. We’ll look at our options, but realistically, I think the appeals court has had the final say in this fight.”


McBride adds he will continue to seek ways to offer residents along the rail lines relief.


“I’ve been with constituents and seen what this does to their lives,” McBride said in a statement. “We have to regroup from this setback and see where we can go next, but I’m going to keep pressing to find a solution that can restore some harmony between the railroad and its neighbors.”


Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
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