Railroad legal rights?

It seems railroads in the US have strong legal rights. A local town wanted to extend a road over the tracks and they had to close down another road crossing over the tracks to open the new crossing. They could not just take the land for the crossing.

Is this true in all states ? This is NC and CSX is the railroad. I wonder if this is because railroads were around decades before roads.

This is an obvious mistake.

What did you actually mean here?

Anyway: to encourage RR development, all layers of government gave the RRs all sorts of leeway, encouragement, land, etc. They were very generous. And these rights sort of ossified in the legal code and are hard to change.

Circumstances have changed, but the rules don’t.

I guess I mean that paved roads for cars like we use now came after railroads.

I know before railroads we had unpaved roads that were used for walking , horses, etc.

IIRC this was because railroads meant commerce and transportation well before cars. However, it would be difficult for a private enterprise to buy a narrow strip of land through everywhere the railroad wants to go - so governments were happy to step in and give them all sorts of special rights. More specifically, as creatures specially authorized by the state or feds, they are above municipalities and counties - just as a city or county can’t do anything with, say. a state park without permission.

I suspect more crossings means more chances of collision and more flashing lights to maintain, so the railroad probably wanted to limit the number.

Well I assume the RR does own the land and control the operations of the crossings. You just can’t let any entity come along and say we want to do this and to hell with your operations.

This has long, long established legal precedent. In the small city where I am there are two draw bridges that open and close frequently. As I understand it the Marine traffic has legal priority over the land traffic and this legal precedent goes back centuries.

If you put some basic thought into what roads crossing tracks mean to the railroad, you should be able to noodle it out reasonably well. The important thing to realize, is that unlike cars, a train can’t start or stop in a very short distance.

That, or you can change the model from railroad and street, to driveway and superhighway. Imagine if people were allowed to, entirely on their own property, build a new driveway that emptied onto a fast highway that happens to border their property line. You should be able to instantly recognize, that people who want to build something which would cause everyone on the existing roadway to have to come to a sudden stop, should logically be required to coordinate with the existing highway people, and that in many cases, the decision will be to tell the person who wants to build the driveway to suck it.

No need for grandfathered-in laws of right of way, or land ownership involved, just intelligent application of rational thought.

I believe others already answered your major question.

As a small-matter, however, the above is quite incorrect. Paved roads existed before railroads. Even leaving aside gravel, stone, brick, and cobblestone, all-weather Macadamized roads were heavily used before the introduction of the railroad and in fact formed the first pillar of the Transportation Revolution. The development of such roads was actually of critical importance in the early 19th century.

Plus the consideration of those drivers who start crossing the rails, then stall and panic, waiting for the next locomotive to nudge them off the permanent way.

CSX railroad was ok with any crossing being closed in NC to make up for this new one. It seemed they just wanted the total crossings in the state to remain at the same number.

This page is about private crossings, but this part seems like it applies to all of them:

they built a bridge over one set of CSX tracks for this same road. But for the 2nd crossing it is at grade.

We are in a fast growing area with lots of new roads so I figure this issue will show up again.

Also close to my house they built an underpass for a road under the tracks so there is no longer a grade crossing for that road.

When a level crossing is closed down for other reasons (converted to a bridge, maybe), do the railroads keep a tally of that, and let the locality have a freebie on the next added crossing?

all across NC they are building bridges and tunnels for cars over and under tracks so that they can run the Amtrak trains faster. They are doing the same up in Virginia. It’s a slow process that will take decades to complete due to funding being limited.

From the link above it does not appear they will allow a new crossing if an old one is closed.

I believe the railroads are under Federal jurisdiction … State or local government has little power over their operations … in a recent speech by our Governor, she said she couldn’t stop the railroads from hauling coal into the State, but the bill she signed changing the State zoning laws would make it impossible to build a transfer station here in Oregon … railroads can haul coal in, but they can’t unload … trick eh? …

Historically, states and localities had substantial control over railroads and their operations, unless regulation imposed a substantial burden on interstate commerce. First-year constitutional law students read about various 19th-century state laws that went too far in such interference, but many towns had speed ordinances controlling trains, or forbade blocking crossings for more than a period of minutes—and police could and would ticket train conductors.

That picture changed substantially in 1995, when Congress passed the ICC Termination Act. This law gave a lot of authority to Congress and the Surface Transportation Authority, preempting most local regulation. What’s permissible is still being fought in the courts, but the railroads appear to be exempt from most regulations, even zoning (but not building codes).

In the case of a new grade crossing, the town or county is condemning the property of the railroad—or at least making it subject to new conditions—and under the ICCTA the railroad is now in a very strong position to deny such a request. Ironically, many states still give railroads eminent domain, so the railroad can condemn land through a subdivision for a new rail line—but the same town can’t automatically put a new street across the railroad.

Basically, due to the existence of the roads laws, and the right of the council and land owner, and other people (telephone ,water,electricity, gas suppliers) to do stuff , each state has a Railways Act.

One part of the Act may be to limit the installation of level crossings, so as to require approval.
One reason for the railways people to refuse permission would be to avoid having the train journey times increase. And because they know level crossings are unsafe and prefer underpasses/overpasses (and all sorts of types of bridges)… Whether the railway people agreed only on the bases of closing another, or the state law gave that as an option, well look up your state law.

But basically, adding the level crossing would be interfering with the railway… the railway has right of way , because otherwise the railway might have issues with the written Acts or common law. ( common law goes back to year 1000, so its better to have explicit law giving rights to the railway instead of assume that common law says nothing about railway operations, and anyway with the millions of formally written Acts, and the federal vs state issues, it was easier to allow railways with a railway act,)

I’m not sure about this as a matter of law, but as a matter of fact, with state laws, federal laws, and court interpretations, I’m really dubious about municipalities having that level of control over interstate railroads in the 20th century.

I’ve interacted a tiny bit with railroads on regulatory matters, and in my limited experience, they do have fairly broad powers to avoid local and even state or federal regulation, but often act like they have much broader powers than they really do.

For that matter, one feature of the Roman Empire was the well-engineered roads they built through much of the empire. (All leading to Rome, according to the quote.) It made possible the extensive economic trading going on, as well as the travel & tourism that took place, and made the Romans so influential.

And that’s why The Railroad Runs Through the Middle of the House.

My guess is that CSX has to maintain the railroad crossings? I imagine those gates that lower, the sensors, etc, are not cheap to install or maintain. Plus, that’s twice as many places to look out for pedestrians or auto traffic within that given area. Also, they can simply move the equipment from one to the other and not have to order new or relocate.