Minnesota’s laws on utilities (broadband) and railroad crossing

There are all sorts of barriers to deploying broadband – including railroads. You don’t think of being on the wrong side of the tracks when it comes to technology – unless you find yourself on the wrong side of the tracks. Community Networks (Institute of Local Self Reliance) recently posted a helpful article that outlines state laws around utilities access to railroad right of way access.

They detail the history of fairly recent (2016) legislation in Minnesota. They start with a story of need from Brent Christensen…

Brent Christensen, President and CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance (MTA), describes a situation in Fosston, Minnesota:

“Garden Valley Telephone wanted to install fiber to their [Fosston’s] city hall. In order to do it, they would have to parallel railroad tracks for a couple of blocks and cross the railroad at one point. The bill from the railroad to do this on an annual basis for 20 years was going to come to $72,000…And they were in the public right-of-way the whole route.”

They detail the progression and update with the recent legislation…

After decades of complaints, the Minnesota Legislature passed SF 877 in 2016. Several organizations representing utility industries advocated to pass the bill, including the MTA, the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association (MMUA), the Minnesota Rural Electric Association (MREA), and the Cooperative Network.

The legislation added a new section to state law, creating a process and limits for involved parties. SF 877 also codified case law precedent establishing that railroads could not charge utilities for lines in public rights-of way. The other states passing standardized fee and process railroad right-of-way crossing legislation or administrative rules include this same provision.

And details…

Other provisions in the bill:

  • Established a $1,250 standard fee per facility to the railroad operator. One conduit and its contents are considered “one facility.” That fee increases each year, based on the Producer Price Index.
  • If a utility submits an application and engineering design, a certificate of insurance, and the required fee, they can commence construction in 35 days unless the rail operator objects. Objections must be based on a “serious threat to safe operations” and notice of the objection must be served in writing to the utility.
  • A utility may file their own objection if a railroad imposes a condition or requirement that’s not allowed in statute. Either party can petition the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for mediation or arbitration and the PUC has 120 days to issue an order.
  • Railroad operators may require utilities to pay additional costs, such as flagging expenses associated with traffic at the crossing. They may also require a utility to relocate if the crossing is “essential” to railroad operations and the utility’s presence will interrupt that activity.

Read more dos and don’ts by reviewing Chapter 180, Sec. 2, 237.045 Railroad Rights-of-Way; Crossing or Paralleling by Utilities.

These regulations have a great impact…

Both private and public entities, such as Internet access companies and municipal utilities or cooperatives, benefit from the change. A broad range of types of utilities can take advantage of the law, not only those that deploy fiber optic infrastructure. If a public or private utility needs to cross a railroad with tubes or wires in Minnesota, the standard right-of-way crossing fee should apply.

This entry was posted in MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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