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CONRAIL v. PENNSYLVANIA PUC

April 14, 1982

CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION
v.
PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES T. GILES

MEMORANDUM

 GILES, J.

 APRIL 14, 1982

 By Statute, Pennsylvania requires locomotives to have speed recorders and indicators. 66 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2705 (1978). *fn1" Plaintiff railroad, contending that the statute is preempted by federal law, sues the state *fn2" for a declaration that the statute is unconstitutional under the supremacy clause, U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2. Before me is plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons which follow, the motion is granted.

 The railroad contends that the state statute conflicts with two federal statutes, the Locomotive Boiler Inspection Act, 45 U.S.C. § 23 (1976), and the Federal Railroad Safety Act, id. § 434, and a federal regulation, 49 C.F.R. § 229.117 (1980). The railroad argues that the Locomotive Inspection Act totally preempts the field of locomotive equipment, barring any state regulation of that subject. Alternatively, the railroad argues that the state statute is independently preempted by the test of the Railroad Safety Act, because a federal rule covers the same subject matter as the state statute.

 The state argues that Congress has redistributed railroad regulatory authority so that the total-preemption test of the Locomotive Inspection Act is no longer valid. It contends that the correct tests are those stated in the Railroad Safety Act. State regulations of speed recorders allegedly meets those tests because it does not cover the same subject matter as the federal regulation, or, if it does overlap, because it comes within the statutory exception of the Railroad Safety Act. *fn3"

 I. LOCOMOTIVE INSPECTION ACT

 In the landmark Napier case, the Court held that Congress intended the Locomotive Boiler Inspection Act to occupy totally the field of locomotive equipment. *fn4" The Act, by itself, thus preempts state regulation of locomotive equipment. The state concedes that this was Congress's intent in passing the Locomotive Inspection Act. *fn5" The state, however, argues that "the rule of Napier. . . has been abrogated" by the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 45 U.S.C. § 434. See State's Brief, supra note 5, at 2. Thus, the question whether the state statute is preempted by the Locomotive Inspection Act turns on whether the latter act's preemptive purpose was modified by the Railroad Safety Act.

 Prior to passage of the Railroad Safety Act, federal law governed only a few areas of railroad safety. Congress found that this spotty federal coverage resulted in numerous preventable accidents. To remedy this problem it passed the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The Act aimed to promote railroad safety by insuring "broad Federal regulatory authority over all areas of railroad safety," *fn6" and promoting "nationally uniform" railroad-safety standards. *fn7" While expanding the field for federal regulation, Congress also stated a narrower rule governing preemption of state law. *fn8" The state contends that this rule operates to limit the scope of preemption of the Locomotive Inspection Act.

 That a reasonably strong argument exists in favor of the state's position is shown by Justice Roberts' opinion in Norfolk & Western Railway Co. v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, 489 Pa. 109, 118-23, 413 A.2d 1037, 1042-44 (1980) (state law requiring flush toilets in locomotives not preempted by Locomotive Inspection Act because Railroad Safety Act changes preemption test). I, however, disagree with the state's argument for two reasons. First, the legislative history of the Railroad Safety Act shows that Congress intended no change to the Locomotive Inspection Act. Second, elimination of the total-preemption test for locomotive equipment runes contrary to the purpose of the Railroad Safety Act.

 In passing the Railroad Safety Act, Congress could have repealed the Locomotive Inspection Act, or recodified or subsumed it within the comprehensive Railroad Safety Act. *fn9" Instead, Congress concluded that the Locomotive Inspection Act was working well, and specifically determined to keep it independently in force "without change." *fn10" These decisions negate implied modification of any part of the Locomotive Inspection Act, including its total occupation of the locomotive-equipment field. *fn11"

 In expanding the scope of federal rule-making authority in the Railroad Safety Act, Congress allowed the states to continue regulating until displaced by federal rules in the same area. *fn12" The continued validity of state rules in areas that had always been subject to state regulation does not make railroad regulation less uniform than in the past. Thus, the new preemption rule, as applied to new areas of federal railroad regulatory jurisdiction, does not impair the congressional purpose of uniform regulation.

 In contrast, in areas already governed by the Locomotive Inspection Act, the states had no regulations. If the Railroad Safety Act were to change the preemption test for those areas, the states could expand their regulatory authority, allowing a new reservoir of differing, and possibly incompatible, railroad-safety law. *fn13" This would run counter to Congress's purpose of uniform national regulation. *fn14" It is contrary to Congress's purpose in passing the Railroad Safety Act to allow the states to reoccupy fields from which they previously had been displaced. Thus, I conclude that Congress did not intend the preemption provision of the Railroad Safety Act to modify the total-preemptive effect of the Locomotive Inspection Act.

 The state statute regulates locomotive equipment, an area totally preempted by the Locomotive Inspection Act. Therefore, to the extent that the state is attempting to regulate railroad common carriers within the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission, see 45 U.S.C. § 22, the ...


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