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Village of Ridgefield Park v. New York Susquehanna

April 05, 2000


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stein, J.

Argued January 4, 2000

On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

This appeal requires the Court to decide the extent to which the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C.A. §§ 701 to 727 and §§ 10101 to 16106, preempts the state regulation of railroads. Plaintiff Village of Ridgefield Park (Village) alleges that Defendant New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway Corporation (Railroad) is maintaining a nuisance at its facility in the Village. The Village seeks to enjoin that nuisance and to regulate the Railroad facility pursuant to generally applicable health, safety, zoning, and land use laws. The Appellate Division held that the ICCTA preemption of state economic regulation of railroads includes state regulations with any economic impact on the Railroad, including state health, safety, zoning, and land use laws. 318 N.J. Super. 385 (App. Div. 1999). Although the Appellate Division acknowledged that a regulatory "no-man's land" would be intolerable, it held that the Village must first seek relief from the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the federal agency charged with regulating the economic aspects of railroading. Id. at 404.

Subsequent to the filing of the Appellate Division's opinion, the STB addressed the preemptive effect of the ICCTA and concluded that local municipalities were permitted to exercise more extensive regulatory authority over railroads than was contemplated by the Appellate Division's disposition. In view of the STB's interpretation of the ICCTA, we modify the judgment of the Appellate Division and remand the matter to the Law Division for further proceedings in conformance with this opinion.


In 1992 the Railroad began construction on a train maintenance facility in the Village. Previously, the Railroad operated another maintenance facility, "the Little Ferry Yard," in the nearby Borough of Ridgefield, moving its present site after selling the Borough facility to another railroad. The Railroad and its predecessors have maintained a right-of-way through the Village for over a century. The present facility is located in a light-industrial area that is near a residential area and a park. The facility is used primarily to refuel locomotives, add oil to crankcases, water to radiators, and sand to on-board reservoirs for traction in wet rail conditions. At the facility, there are up to thirteen diesel locomotives idling for hours at a time. The facility has elicited complaints from Village officials and residents about noise, fumes, soot, and ground vibrations.

The Railroad began construction at the Village site without applying for zoning or construction permits or otherwise informing the Village of its plans. The Village contacted the Railroad in May 1992 to request information about the ongoing construction at the site and to inform the Railroad that it was required to apply for permits. On June 1, 1992, Robert A. Kurdock, Vice President of the Railroad, responded, stating that the newly installed sidetrack would be used as "a location to perform Federal Railroad Administration required services and inspections on our locomotives." Kurdock assured the Village that if the railroad decided "to build any more" it would inform the Village and apply for any required permits.

In June and July 1992, the Railroad and Village officials discussed the Railroad's plans to build an engine house at the site to minimize noise and air pollution, and the Railroad delivered a rendering of the proposed engine house. In a July 24, 1992 letter, counsel for the Railroad described the Railroad's plans to build the engine house at the maintenance facility "as soon as practicable" in response to the Village's concerns. The engine house was intended to hold trains during cold weather and to contain toilet and office facilities. The letter further stated that the maintenance facility would be operated primarily during daylight and early evening hours.

Throughout the discussions between the Railroad and Village about the engine house, construction on the maintenance facility was continuing, but the Railroad had not yet applied for zoning or construction permits. When the construction was complete, the Railroad had added a sidetrack adjacent to the main railway and placed on it five rail cars, consisting of three boxcars that allegedly house offices, shops and bathroom facilities, and two permanent 20,000 gallon diesel tank cars with pumping equipment. The Railroad also erected a sand tower to facilitate the loading of sand into locomotive holding tanks. It installed drip pans in the ground adjacent to the fueling area to catch fuel that drips during the refueling process. It also installed a hand-pumped septic system because the Village had not given the Railroad permission to connect to the municipal sewer line.

Between June 1992 and early 1993, the maintenance facility became operational, but the plans for the engine house had not progressed. In March and May 1993, the Village wrote to the Railroad in an attempt to learn when construction on the engine house would begin. In a May 12, 1993 letter, George D. Fosdick, the mayor of the Village, again wrote concerning the Village's growing concerns:

We mutually agreed not to pursue litigation over the location of this facility . . . and in return, New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway agreed to commence construction of the engine house this spring. . . .

Within the past year, the situation has continued to become progressively worse. In fact, during several public municipal meetings, numerous Ridgefield Park residents that reside in the affected area have complained that the noise emanating from the idling trains, coupled with the unpleasant odor of diesel fuel is unbearable.

The Village received no response to its March and May letters to the Railroad, and the proposed engine house was never built.

The Village instituted this action in November 1993, seeking a determination requiring the Railroad to obtain municipal permits, to permit municipal inspections, to cease the maintenance of a public nuisance, and to cease operations at the maintenance facility until the municipal requirements were met. The Village alleged that the Railroad was in violation of local zoning ordinances and that the Railroad had breached an implied contract to construct an engine house designed to minimize noise and air pollution. The Village further alleged that the "excessive noise and noxious fumes have destroyed the peace and quiet enjoyment of a residential neighborhood," and that the public health, safety, and welfare were threatened. The Village supported its request for equitable relief with affidavits of neighbors affected by the maintenance facility and of Village officials who were refused entry in their efforts to inspect the maintenance facility.

In February 1998 the trial court granted the Railroad's summary judgment motion because it found that pursuant to the ICCTA the STB exercises exclusive regulatory jurisdiction over matters relating to authorization of construction of railroad facilities. The court noted that a contrary holding would allow the Village to interfere with railroad activity in contravention of the ICCTA's stated purpose of decreasing regulation of railroads.

The Appellate Division affirmed, with modifications, the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the Railroad. Village of Ridgefield Park v. New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway Corp., 318 N.J. Super. 385 (App. Div. 1999). The Appellate Division concluded "that all state action with any economic impact on railroads was preempted by the Act and that the states retained a certain residuum of historic police powers, but presumably those not related to railroad service, operations and physical properties or structures." Id. at 399.

We granted the Village's petition for certification. 160 N.J. 476 (1999). On September 9, 1999, prior to argument before this Court, the STB preliminarily interpreted the preemptive effect of the ICCTA in Borough of Riverdale Petition for Declaratory Order, The New York Susquehanna and Western Railway Corporation, 1999 WL 715272 (S.T.B. September 9, 1999), available in , STB Finance Docket No. 33466. The Riverdale proceeding involved that Borough's attempt to require permits and to otherwise restrict the Railroad's construction and operation of a truck terminal and food processing facility on its property. We now affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division, but modify that judgment to reflect the STB's less preemptive Riverdale decision. We remand to the Law Division for further proceedings in anticipation of the STB's more comprehensive interpretation of the preemptive effect of the ICCTA in its final Riverdale decision.


The ICCTA was passed in late 1995 and became effective January 1, 1996. 49 U.S.C.A. §§ 701 to 727; §§ 10101 to 16106. It was passed "to abolish the Interstate Commerce Commission" and "to reform economic regulation of transportation." H.R. Rep. No. 104-311, at 1 (1995), reprinted in 1995 U.S.C.C.A.N. 793.

Consistent with the nature of federalism, "[w]e begin by noting that pre-emption is not to be lightly presumed and that the historic police powers of the States are not to be superseded by federal law unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress." Franklin Tower One, L.L.C. v. N.M., 157 N.J. 602, 615 (1999)(brackets and citations omitted). The primary source of Congress' intent is the language of the preemptive statute and the statutory framework surrounding it. Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470, 484-85, 116 S. Ct. 2240, 2250, 135 L. Ed. 2d 700, 715-16 (1996)(citations omitted).

According to the "General Jurisdiction" provision of the ICCTA, the STB has jurisdiction over transportation by rail carrier that is-

(A) only by railroad; or

(B) by railroad and water, when the transportation is under common control, management, or arrangement for a continuous carriage or shipment. [49 ...

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