Bill would limit train length in Iowa to 1.6 miles

DES MOINES — Three lawmakers have given the green light to a bill that would limit the length of trains passing through Iowa, but all three say it could get stopped in a House committee.

The bill would make it illegal for trains to be more than 1.6 miles long. That would be up to 130 rail cars according to Chris Smith of Tama, a Union Pacific conductor and engineer. He’s a local leader in the SMART TD union that represents railroad workers.

“Currently, there is no legislation that restricts the length of trains,” Evans said. “Right now they’re operating up to 15,000 feet, which is three miles. Infrastructure in this state was never designed to handle that…It blocks crossings in towns for extended periods of time.”

Mike Triplett, a lobbyist for Union Pacific, said train traffic is regulated by the federal government because it’s interstate commerce — and the proposed 8500 feet limit on trains running through Iowa is unworkable.

“If this bill were to pass and Nebraska says, ‘I’d like to do one better and we’re going to go 8000,’ and then Illinois goes 6000, the supply chain gets wrecked,” Triplett said.

Brad Epperly, a lobbyist for BNSF Rail, said states can’t preempt federal law when it comes to regulating trains. “It would be something along the lines of nullification,” Epperly said, “and that was decided by the Civil War.”

Republican Representative Brent Siegrist of Council Bluffs has some concerns about the bill, but voted in subcommittee to keep it alive for further debate.  “I’ve been stuck like we all have at rail crossings,” Siegrist said. “Once it gets to 100 cars, I get a little pissy.”

Republican Representative Tom Determann of Camanche said lawmakers need to “gather more information” before taking action on the bill.

“We have some problem in eastern Iowa with the CP/KCS thing and especially so I’m inclined to take it to committee for more discussion,” he said.

The merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads is expected to increase train traffic between Sabula, Iowa and Kansas City according to the Iowa DOT.