Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo has vetoed a bill that would have restricted the length of freight trains running through the state, saying such a mandate could violate federal interstate commerce laws.

The Republican governor said in a Thursday letter to Nevada State Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager that while the bill’s intent may have been to reduce the likelihood of accidents similar to the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio, restricting commercial trains to no more than 7,500 feet could be an overreach by the state. Lombardo also questioned whether such a mandate could be upheld in court, citing a 1945 case in which interstate commerce trumped state interest.

“Though mostly well-intended, since the bill’s prohibition on commercial trains greater in length than 7,500 feet is unlikely to withstand litigation, I cannot support it,” Lombardo said in his letter. 

The bill, AB 456, passed the Nevada Assembly 28-14 and the Senate 13-8.

In response to the veto, state representatives with the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) urged Lombardo and Nevada Republicans to reevaluate the issue, arguing that the governor’s reference to the 1945 legal precedent ignores provisions within the Federal Railroad Safety Act that allow for states to set mandates that would reduce local safety hazards.

SMART-TD also said in a statement that Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford would have been able to “robustly” defend a train length mandate in court, as he has previously defended a state law requiring freight train crews to have at least two workers in the locomotive cab.

“We plan to continue our advocacy for improved rail safety in Nevada,” said Jason Doering, Nevada state legislative director, in an email to FreightWaves. “Although we’ve encountered a setback, our work is far from over. We will focus on raising public awareness about the specifics of AB456 and the potential dangers posed by long trains. By doing so, we hope to generate stronger public support that can apply pressure on our lawmakers.” 

Doering also said that his group would be looking to collaborate with like-minded organizations and legislators, both within the state and nationally. SMART-TD might also seek to reintroduce the bill or explore other approaches that would address train length. 

According to Doering, other states that have legislation limiting train lengths include bills in Kansas and Arizona that would limit train length to 8,500 feet and one in Washington that would limit train lengths to 7,500 feet. Similar legislation has also been introduced in Iowa, Arkansas and Colorado, he said. 

“The ongoing legislative efforts in these states show that the concern about train lengths is shared broadly, and it indicates a trend towards more stringent safety measures in the rail industry,” Doering said. “This context reinforces our argument for the need for AB456 and underscores that Nevada is part of a larger national conversation on rail safety.”

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Related links:

Federal Railroad Administration urges caution on train lengths

FRA links train configuration to 6 derailments, issues safety advisory

Train length and train crew sizes see state legislative action

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