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Frequently Asked Questions

+  Where can I locate information on how to petition the OCR for a new or altered crossing?

The OCR has jurisdiction to approve the establishment and alteration of a public highway crossing(s) with railroads under Wis. Stat. 195.29. For information on materials needed, the OCR process, and how to electronically file said materials please click here.

+  What is the process for rehearing or appeal?

Please refer to the Notice to the Parties, for information on how to appeal an OCR decision or request a rehearing.

+  There is a rough crossing in my area, now what?

Wis. Stat. 86.12 requires the railroad to maintain all at-grade crossings in good condition for travel. If the railroad fails to do so the highway authority can enforce this law through the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads (OCR). For more information, please refer to the Rough Crossing Process.

+  How do I use the OCR electronic filing system (ERF)?

The ERF Mini Upload is for municipalities electronic submission of filed documents and online access of these documents including those submitted in formal cases before the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads. This includes petitions and exhibits for railroad crossing alterations, changes, new crossings, adequacy of warning devices and rough crossings. ERF Mini Upload can be used for the electronic filing of intervention and data requests, testimony, comments, correspondence, legal briefs, exhibits, and motions. Please refer to the Quick Reference Guide for instructions on how to upload documents, as well as on how to subscribe to a docket and how to search ERF.

+  Who regulates railroads?

The vast majority of current regulations are on a Federal level which include:

United States Department of Transportation (USDOT)

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)

  • The FRA is part of the USDOT
  • The FRA creates and enforces rail safety regulations
  • All railroad operational procedures are regulated by the FRA which include train speeds, train horn use, track condition, along with much more

The Surface Transportation Board (STB)

  • Railroad rate and service issues
  • Rail restricting transactions such as mergers, rail line sales, new line construction, and rail abandonment
  • Use of rail lines for recreational use

The State of Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Railroads has primary responsibility for making determination of the adequacy of warning devices at railroad crossings as well as the installation of new highway/rail crossings, alteration of existing crossings, closing or consolidating existing crossings, repair of rough crossings, determining adequate railroad fences and exemptions from railroad track clearance laws.

+  Can the state or a city require a railroad to stop blowing the train whistle in my area?

No. The Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) rules, 49 CFR 222 and 49 CFR 229, require the railroad to sound the train whistle as a warning to highway users at public highway rail-crossings. Local municipalities have an opportunity to cease the train whistle either partially or fully by establishing a federally regulated "quiet zone". For more information, please visit the FRA web site.

+  Is there a State or Federal law prohibiting the railroads from blocking a crossing?

Wis. Stat. 192.292 states that it shall be unlawful to stop any railroad train, locomotive or car upon or across any highway or street crossing, outside of cities, or leave the same standing upon such crossing longer than 10 minutes, except in case of an accident.

Some cities have local ordinances that make it unlawful for a train to occupy a crossing for a certain length of time; however, these ordinances are likely preempted by federal rule.

The railroads will and have successfully used a preemption defense citing Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and other Federal requirements such as the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995, the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. 20101-20153, and the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C. 10101-16106, and that it violates the Commerce Clause. U.S. Const. art. I 8, cl. 3. Where there is conflict between State law and Federal safety requirements the courts will find the State law to be preempted and therefore unenforceable.

+  Can the state or city require a railroad to operate at a certain speed or during certain times?

No. The Federal Railroad Administration's regulations preempt any state or local restrictions on train movements (Section 20106 of Title 49, United States Code.)

+  Who regulates the installation of Positive Train Control (PTC)?

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 directed the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to promulgate new safety regulations including the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC).

For more information, visit the FRA website here.

+  Who regulates private crossings?

Private crossings do not fall neatly in the federal or state jurisdiction. Private crossings may be governed by legal agreements between private property owners and private railroad companies. Few Federal regulations pertain to the safety, operation, maintenance, or responsibility designations at private highway-rail grade crossings. The Office of the Commissioner of Railroads does not have jurisdiction over matters involving private crossings.

Private crossings can include:

  • Farm crossings
  • Industrial plant crossings
  • Residential access crossings
  • Temporary crossings

The USDOT Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Manual on Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) (2003 edition) defines a public roadway as any road or street under the jurisdiction of and maintained by a public agency and open to public travel. If either approach to a crossing does not qualify as a public roadway, then the crossing is typically classified as a private crossing.

+  Can pedestrians walk on or along the tracks?

No. Railroads are privately owned property. People who access railroad property without permission are violating the law and could be issued a citation. Trespassing along railroad right-of-way is the leading cause of rail-related deaths in America.

+  Where can I get a copy of railroad train schedules?

Freight trains do not operate on schedules. The number of trains per day is available in the Federal Highway-Rail Crossing Inventory, Report 8.08.

+  Where can I report a signal malfunction problem?

Each crossing in Wisconsin has a blue emergency notification system (ENS) sign posted. The blue ENS sign lists a telephone number to notify the railroad of an emergency of warning device malfunction. Local law enforcement can also contact the railroad for you. Emergency Railroad Contacts.

+  What do I need to know about performing work near the railroad tracks?

Anyone performing work (construction, highway, utility, fencing, brushing, etc.) near railroad tracks must contact the railroad regarding access to railroad property. There are often permitting, training, and flagging requirements when working near railroad tracks. Contact with the railroad should be made as soon as possible, as some processes may be lengthy. Links to Wisconsin railroads are located on our website.

Operation Lifesafer Video

If it won't fit, don't commit!

Getting stuck in a line of cars at a crossing can lead to disaster if you get caught on the tracks. If there's a chance traffic will trap you on the crossing, stop before the tracks and wait for the train to pass.

Operation Lifesaver

Wisconsin Railroads / Federal Rail Administration / Operation Lifesaver

Office of the Commissioner of Railroads
Contact Us
4822 Madison Yards Way  
Suite S633
Madison, WI 53705