Railroad safety bill stops moving in 2019 session

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark.– Arkansans blocked in and out of their communities by trains will now have to wait at least 2 more years for help from state politicians. 

A bill put on hold Thursday for a study also puts more lives at risk, according to 2 railroad labor unions. 

Wayne Denson represents the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. 

He said, “The safety of the public should be placed first.”

The bill would regulate and restrict a railroad train running in Arkansas to a maximum length of  1.6 miles. We’ve learned that could be up to about 200 rail cars on a single train.

State Representative Jay Richardson sponsored the bill. He told our reporter Price McKeon that he decided to push the bill to a study before it’s heard in a committee meeting because it needs more work and a federal study is going to be released in the next 90 days that could help Arkansans. 

State Rep. Richardson said he acknowledges a safety issue with railroads in the state. 

“I do not want to see anybody in Arkansas lose their life because these railroads insist on building these railroads excessive lengths,” Denson said. 

Denson also drives trains and has for 15 years. 

“There’s a reason we have bulletproof windows up on the locomotives,” Gerald Sale, III said. 

Gerald Sale, III represents SMART Transportation Division. 

He’s conducted trains for just as long as Denson

Denson said, “The workers, the engineers and the conductors do not want to block these crossings. We do not want to block these towns but we have no choice due to the excessive length of these trains.”

The 2 labor union representatives helped craft a bill that would have limited the length of trains to about 1.6 miles in the natural state. 

“It impacts my family. It impacts my community,” Denson said. 

They said the longer trains are why communities like Hensley can’t get in or out of their neighborhood for hours. 

“But I know as a railroad employee we have to choice we have to block these towns to make meets,” the engineer said. 

State Representative Richardson, who sponsored the bill, sent it to an 18-month study on Thursday. That means no state relief will come to Arkansans for at least 2 years. 

“The average length of a train in AR is about 6800 foot before they changed their structure. Now we’re seeing trains up to 12,000,” Denson said. 

The 2 say the longer the bill lingers…. the longer the trains will grow… and longer access problems will persist. 

Sale said, “call your local representatives call your politicians that this is an important issue to you

 “We worry about derailments of course. We’re going to have train handling issue,” Sale said. 

State Rep. Richardson stressed the bill is not dead. 

“I worry about somebody’s mom (or) somebody’s grandma having a house fire (or) having a heartache and ambulance service being blocked (by the trains),” he said. 

State Rep. Richardson says findings from a federal study on this topic plan to be released in the next few months. That means a federal law could provide relief to Arkansans impacted by trains. 

Union Pacific sent the following statement:

Nothing is more important than safety. Union Pacific strives to be a good neighbor and community partner. We encourage communities to work directly with us to address any safety concerns they have. 

Train length is determined by customer needs. Longer trains improve efficiency by maximizing crews, locomotives and fuel. They also mean fewer trains moving through communities.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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