Fact Check | Blocked railroad crossings in Kentucky

A train stopped on tracks in Pulaski County, Kentucky.
A train stopped on tracks in Pulaski County, Kentucky.(WKYT)
Published: Jun. 26, 2023 at 1:52 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Trains keep commerce moving through Kentucky.

But for years, neighbors in Pulaski and Scott counties have told WKYT that blocked crossings too often make everyone else screech to a halt.

Complaint reports show it is still happening.

“It’s kind of like they rule the world,” Charles Stone of Scott County told WKYT Investigates in March 2017.

“One of the kids has already been charged with truancy,” Ashley Terry, who lives near tracks in Pulaski County, told WKYT’s Phil Pendleton that same month.

“You have to sit and wait and wait and wait,” James Sneed said, at that same spot in Pulaski County a week later.

“I have had to wait over an hour a couple of times,” Mike Hill described in May 2018.

Related coverage via InvestigateTV and ProPublica:

In December 2019, the Federal Railroad Administration began collecting complaints about blocked crossings.

In that time, the FRA has received more than 71,566 reports - including at least 794 from Kentucky.

At least 336 - a little under half - of the reports filed in Kentucky came in the past 12 months alone.

More than half of those (172) were in Jefferson County.

But Pulaski County has the second-most (34) reports filed, with nine of those complaints reporting crossings that were blocked for at least six hours.

More information via the Federal Railroad Administration:

Kentucky has a stopped train law that specifically bans blocking public grade crossings for more than five minutes.

That law, however, has basically been blocked since 2020.

That is when, in response to a lawsuit from the American Association of Railroads after one railroad company was cited for multiple violations, a federal judge ruled that the Federal Railway Safety Act preempts state law.

Previous coverage via WKYT:

Even federal regulators say they have little power.

“As of today, legally we do not have the authority to respond to even an egregious situation of blocked crossings with something like a fine,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told InvestigateTV. “We can go out on the ground, we can call attention to it, we can call the railroad to the table - and sometimes that’s worked - but right now it falls to a gap in regulation.”

Kentucky is one of 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, that has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of state anti-blocking laws.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has set aside grant funding to help states and local governments get rid of grade crossings that are easily blocked.

Kentucky is not part of the first round of awards.