Rail Resolutions for 2020: Collaboration, Safety and Quiet

December 13, 2019 - (5 min read)

It’s the time of the year to start thinking about your resolutions for 2020! At City Summit, NLC’s Transportation and Infrastructure Services Committee came together to set six resolutions for 2020. Alongside our National Municipal Policy, these resolutions will guide us in the new year.

“Cities And Towns Call For Corporation With Neighboring Railroads And Operators To Improve Rail Safety, Flow, Service And Noise In Communities” represents communities’ rail resolutions for the new year. Local leaders want to showcase what is needed from Congress, as our federal partners look to reauthorize rail programs as part of a broader transportation bill in 2020.


As with most resolutions, rail starts with relationship goals. Cities recognize that the intertwined relationships of cities, towns and villages with their neighboring railroads are often complicated – but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be collaborative. Complicated issues include safety with hazardous materials after accidents, flow of passenger traffic with freight, safety incidents at rail crossings, and noise considerations. In 2020, we are looking to prioritize communication and collaboration between the railroad operators and local leadership to effectively address these challenges.

Safety First

Use and Improve Safety Rules

Cities call for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to continue to lead on safety with strong support and follow through on all safety practices. Communities want to see increased incentives for railroads to deconflict rail and road grade crossings, which would lead to better safety, flow and service through our nation’s communities. Cities, towns, and villages have raised concerns with FRA practices and responsiveness, especially on a clear, affordable process for establishing a community quiet zone, adapting modern technologies, and providing reasonable exemptions for the Train Horn Rule.

Address Blocked Rail Crossings

Reports from across the country have been piling up regarding blocked rail crossings. A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) – Freight Trains Are Getting Longer, and Additional Information Is Needed to Assess Their Impact (GAO-19-443) – confirms growing community safety and congestion concerns. Freight trains have been getting longer, nearly 3 miles in some cases, and this has raised concerns that trains may block traffic more often at road-crossings, impeding emergency responders and prompting unsafe pedestrian behavior (such as climbing through stopped trains). Braking and other operations can also be more complex for longer trains.

The FRA is studying potential safety risks and the best ways to operate longer trains. The GAO recommends the development of a strategy to both share the results of the FRA study and to engage state and local governments to identify and reduce impacts of longer freight trains on highway-railroad crossings.

Hazardous Shipping

Communities across the nation continue to seek complete coordination and cooperation among railroads, states and local emergency managers for accurate, timely information on the materials transported through their communities. Appropriate training should be made available to all first responders along the routes. Congress must ensure that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) carefully consider all changes to bulk rail transport of hazardous materials.

Join NLC’s Rail Resolutions

City leaders from across the country are invited to raise local rail priorities to Congress by signing onto NLC’s 2020 Rail Priorities letter. This letter urges Congress and the Administration to create clear, forward-looking, and comprehensive regulations in the next reauthorization of federal transportation programs, which can improve:

  • the safety at railroad-road crossings through investment in overpasses, underpasses and other best practices,
  • blocked crossing issues,
  • communication with railroads and productive collaboration, especially on issues like hazardous materials movement,
  • the flow of freight traffic in conjunction with on-time passenger services,
  • approaches to noise through modernization of the train horn rule; and
  • coordinated federal planning that includes local community feedback.

If you are a city leader with rail in your community, or you share our “safety first” message, we hope you will consider joining us! To sign on, just fill out this form before January 9th. If you have any challenges or questions, just email advocacy@nlc.org.

Comment Now

If hazardous materials movement is concerning to your community, you can take action right now. This fall, PHMSA, in coordination with FRA, is proposing changes to the Hazardous Materials Regulations to allow for the bulk transport of methane, refrigerated liquid, commonly known as liquefied natural gas (LNG), in rail tank cars. Here is their Impact Analysis to learn about the issue. Cities like Barrington, IL, have already weighed in and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) took the opportunity to comment.

“NTSB believes that it would be detrimental to public safety if PHMSA were to authorize the transportation of LNG by rail with unvalidated tank cars and lacking operational controls that are afforded other hazardous materials such as flammable liquids, as currently proposed in this NPRM.”

Comments are open until January 13, 2020 in the Federal Register.

To comment on federal regulations:

  1. Read the Proposed Rule, Hazardous Materials: Liquefied Natural Gas by Rail (PHMSA-2018-0025).
  2. Make your comments here. To quote the Center for Effective Government, “Your comments can be brief or in-depth and well researched. They can address only specific aspects of the proposed rule, fully address all aspects, or address the subject at-large. Often, the agency will ask the public to comment on specific aspects of the proposed regulation, but you may comment on any part or the whole regulation.”

About the Authors: Brittney Kohler is the program director for transportation and infrastructure at the National League of Cities.