Railroad laws encompass all areas that are related to railroad services.
Most often the cases regarding railroad laws will be wrongful death litigation by employees, passengers, or non-passengers, or personal injury cases.
Another issue that arises is workers’ compensation when railroad employees are injured while working.
In 1869, American engineers created the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.
As railroads grew and developed throughout the United States, railroad laws quickly followed.
There are many federal laws regarding rail transport.
The laws cover a variety of topics.
Railroad laws regulate rail travel on a federal, state, and local level.
What is Railroad Law?
Railroad law is the collection of laws that apply to rail travel in the United States.
It regulates many different topics like the construction and use of railroads, transportation logistics, and safety issues.
There are multiple federal bodies that regulate railroad laws.
State and local regulations are limited.
However, railroad law is the sum total of all of the laws that impact the creation and use of rail travel in the United States.
Railroad laws began on a federal level with the Interstate Commerce Clause of 1887.
The law regulated rail travel by prohibiting discrimination on the part of carriers and by requiring the publication of rates.
Railroad regulation continued to be strong throughout the twentieth century until the Staggers Rail Act of 1980.
The Act allowed companies to share tracks.
The Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 followed, further deregulating rail transit in the United States.
Although rail travel is more deregulated today, there remain significant regulations that cover many topics relating to railroads.
Attorneys who practice railroad law create, enforce, and interpret railroad laws.
Interstate Commerce Termination Act of 1995
The Interstate Commerce Termination Act of 1995 (ICTA) both deregulated the railroad industry while giving the Surface Transportation Board the authority to create regulations for the industry.
It gives the federal government the authority to regulate operating routes, rules for operation, facilities, and the construction of tracks.
The ICTA preempts state laws.
Generally, local laws that attempt to further regulate issues covered by the ICTA are invalid because of federal preemption.
Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970
The Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 created regulations for the speed of trains.
There are rules for the use of railroad crossings.
In addition, much of the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 aims to promote the safety of rail travel and reduce safety incidents.
Noise Control Act of 1972
The Noise Control Act of 1972 governs the noise created by railroads.
Railroads often travel through cities and residential areas.
Noise can be a controversial issue.
The Noise Control Act of 1972 regulates noise in the use of rail transportation.
The Act establishes noise limits.
If there is a legitimate transportation purpose for the noise, and the noise is within acceptable limits under the Act, state and local authorities cannot create lower noise limits.
Even train whistles are allowed if they follow the noise guidelines put in place by the Act.
Railway Labor Act
Labor laws are a little bit different for the railway industry than they are for other industries.
The Railway Labor Act controls labor relations and labor disputes in the railway industry.
Rail workers cannot just strike if they are unhappy with their working conductions.
The Railway Labor Act calls for alternative dispute resolution measures including mediation so that workers and employers can resolve their disputes without strikes that interrupt rail transit.
Railroad Laws and Jurisdictional Issues
No discussion of railroad laws is complete without a discussion of the legal issue of the preemption of law.
Preemption is the legal concept that where the federal government makes a law that regulates something nationwide, state and local governments cannot make a different law.
In some cases, preemption prevents the state and local governments from creating laws completely.
In other cases, preemption allows for state and local regulation as long as the federal laws do not completely regulate a particular issue.
In fact, much of the case law surrounding railroads has to do with the issue of preemption.
A state or local government may try to make a law.
The law creates restrictions on a railroad.
The railroad company challenges the law.
The parties litigate the issue of whether federal laws preempt the local regulation.
For example, the case of Soo Line Railroad Company v. City of Minneapolis, 38 F.Supp 2d 1096 (1998) litigated the issue of whether the demolition permitting process was covered by federal law.
Agencies That Regulate Railroads
There are multiple agencies that regulate railroads in the United States:
United States Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration
The Department of Transportation Act of 1966 created the United States Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration.
The purpose of the Federal Railroad Administration is to promote the safe, reliable, and efficient movement of people.
The Federal Railroad Administration creates a system for accident reporting, investigation, and risk reduction.
Surface Transportation Board
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is an independent federal agency.
The Interstate Commerce Clause Termination Act created it.
There are five board members and six offices in the United States.
The STB oversees economic issues related to railway travel like rates, approval of new rail lines, and the abandonment of existing rail lines.
The STB isn’t just limited to rail issues.
They also regulate moving vans, pipelines, and some trucking activities.
Types of Law for Practicing Railroad Attorneys
Railroad attorneys may encounter any of the following types of law:
At the core of railroad law, rail carriers need to know when, where, and how they can operate.
Transportation laws cover everything from the path of rail tracks, use of railroads, crossing through densely populated areas, costs of transit, anti-discrimination, and more.
Many labor laws are unique to the rail industry.
Labor laws govern workers and working conditions for rail employees in the United States.
Injuries occur in rail travel just like they do in any other venture.
Personal injury legal issues arise in railroad law including slip and falls, intentional torts, premises liability, and other types of tort actions.
Hazardous Materials Transport
When a railroad transports dangerous goods, there are special conditions that apply.
Hazardous materials transport regulations are an area of law and regulation that applies in rail travel.
Once a railroad gets established, it transports things and people.
With these agreements often come contract disputes.
Railroad attorneys handle these disputes.
Railroads need land over a great distance to operate.
Railroad attorneys work with property and land use laws to help their clients conduct business.
Who Practices Railroad Law?
Railroad lawyers must master complex federal regulations that cover a variety of topics.
Much of the practice of railroad law is regulation.
Carriers need to understand what they can and cannot do when it comes to rail travel.
They need to know what they need to do to be in compliance as they go about their business.
A railroad lawyer educates the client so that the client can make the best possible choice within the boundaries of the law.
Attorneys who practice railroad law must understand regulations, but they also assist their clients in representing them through allegations of wrongdoing.
They may also help their clients take action in order to challenge local regulations or obtain a legal interpretation of an issue surrounding railroad law.
Because of the wide scope of topics present in railroad law, it’s common for attorneys to specialize their practice in the area of railroad law.
In addition, because of the inherent complexities of any rail operation, it’s not uncommon for an attorney to have a single client or even for a team of attorneys to represent a single client.
Likewise, there are opportunities for attorneys to work as in-house counsel for a single client.
Finally, attorneys work for the federal bodies that regulate rail travel in the United States.
Why Practice Railroad Law?
Railroad law provides an opportunity for attorneys to practice a complex area of law with long-term clients.
Attorneys must learn the vast body of federal law and regulation that applies to rail travel.
However, they must also be prepared to help their clients navigate state and local laws that may either also apply or may need to be challenged.
Railroad law best suits attorneys who thrive practicing regulatory law; however, attorneys also pursue legal and enforcement actions including hearings, preparation of legal documents, and the presentation of evidence.
For attorneys who wish to become an expert in their field and dedicate their career to a specialty, railroad law may be a capable career fit.
Traveling Through a Career in Railroad Law
Railroads are a critical part of the United States infrastructure.
In turn, the attorneys who practice railroad law are a critical part of rail transit throughout the country.
Navigating federal laws and regulations that cover a variety of topics is a critical task for any railroad lawyer.
In addition, legal hearings and other contested actions may be an important part of the job.
Ultimately, railroad lawyers help their clients conduct business in the most efficient and optimal ways and contribute to the body of railroad law in the United States.