Secretary of Transportation Authority to Impose Civil Penalties
The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) of 1970, codified at 45 United States Code section 421 et seq., was repealed in 1994, and recodified at 49 United States Code section 20101 et seq.
The newly codified 1994 act is referred to as the Federal Railroad Safety Authorization Act (FRSAA).
The purpose of the Federal Railroad Safety Authorization Act "is to promote safety in every area of railroad operations and reduce railroad-related accidents and incidents." (49 U.S.C. 20101; Rushing v. Kansas City Southern Ry. Co., supra, 185 F.3d at p. 515.)
The act grants the Secretary of Transportation broad power to promulgate regulations "for every area of railroad safety." (49 U.S.C. 20103; Rushing v. Kansas City Southern Ry. Co., supra, 185 F.3d at p. 515.)
The federal preemptive scope is defined in the Federal Railroad Safety Authorization Act as follows:
"Laws, regulations, and orders related to railroad safety shall be nationally uniform to the extent practicable.
A State may adopt or continue in force a law, regulation, or order related to railroad safety until the Secretary of Transportation prescribes a regulation or issues an order covering the subject matter of the State requirement.
A State may adopt or continue in force an additional or more stringent law, regulation, or order related to railroad safety when the law, regulation, or order:
(1) is necessary to eliminate or reduce an essentially local safety hazard;
(2) is not incompatible with a law, regulation, or order of the United States Government;
(3) does not unreasonably burden interstate commerce." (49 U.S.C. 20106.)
The act further states that the Secretary of Transportation generally has exclusive authority to impose civil penalties and injunctions for violations of its own regulations. (49 U.S.C. 20111.)
The 1979 Federal Railroad Safety Authorization Act defined the preemptive scope similarly as follows:
"States may 'adopt or continue in force any law, rule, regulation, or standard relating to railroad safety until such time as the Secretary has adopted a rule, regulation or order, or standard covering the same subject matter of such State requirement.'
Even after federal standards have been promulgated, the States may adopt more stringent safety requirements 'when necessary to eliminate or reduce an essentially local safety hazard,' if those standards are not 'incompatible with' federal laws or regulations and not an undue burden on interstate commerce." (Rushing v. Kansas City Southern Ry. Co., supra, 185 F.3d at p. 515, quoting CSX Transp., Inc. v. Easterwood, 507 U.S. 658, 662 [113 S. Ct. 1732, 1736] and 45 U.S.C. former 434, repealed and replaced by 49 U.S.C. 20106.)