Minnesota committee stops train length bill Sarah Gonzalez May 23, 2024

Minnesota committee stops train length bill

The Minnesota Judiciary Committee chose not to advance a bill that would limit train lengths after hearing testimony from representatives of NGFA and BNSF Railway this month.

Tom Wilcox, NGFA’s Transportation Counsel, testified on May 8 before the committee on the legal ramifications of limiting train lengths to 8,500 feet. The committee ultimately agreed that state laws on train length limitations are federally preempted by authority Congress granted to the Surface Transportation Board and the Federal Railroad Administration, and by the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. 

Minnesota’s House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee had advanced the bill in March.However, the Judiciary Committee chose not to include train length limitations in an omnibus bill passed last week.

In his testimony, Wilcox noted that shuttle/unit trains — the most efficient way of moving large volumes of ag commodities long distances — sometimes meet or exceed the 8,500-foot limit of the proposed Minnesota bill. 

“Reducing longer trains to meet the 8,500-foot cap would result in higher costs and operational inefficiencies that will be borne by the railroads’ customers, and the end user consumers of the products made from the commodities,” Wilcox said in his testimony. “While the length of most ag shuttle/unit trains would not be immediately impacted by the limit, they would nevertheless still be adversely affected by the increased network congestion resulting from breaking up longer intermodal, automotive, coal, and other trains that can reach 12,000 feet.”

At least four states have proposed legislation to limit train lengths, but NGFA is unaware of any yet passed into law.