CHEYENNE — State lawmakers defeated legislation Thursday that would have given railroad security officers the power to arrest, issue citations and use firearms when necessary.
Current law allows companies to name reserve deputies in each county. The deputies are trained to handle emergency situations on rail cars or at loading stations. With 900 miles of track, the Burlington Northern and Sante Fe and the Union Pacific railroads only have one trained security officer each.
The bill was sponsored by Reps. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, and Norine Kasperik, R-Gillette, and Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta
Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, said he wasn’t comfortable giving corporations jurisdiction and authority that’s reserved for law enforcement.
“We’ve had officers managing the railroads for many years; why do we need to change it now?” he said.
Rep. Stan Blake, D-Green River, works for Union Pacific. He said he’s been accosted by transients in the railyard late at night. He said a security officer wouldn’t have helped him — especially if there’s only one covering 900 miles of track throughout the whole company.
“You have to handle the situation immediately,” he said.
Wyoming’s current security laws differ from the federal government’s. Every other state, excluding Minnesota, complies with Washington’s rules and gives railroad companies significant jurisdiction to police their railroads and railcars.
“We’ve had situations where it’s taken two hours for law enforcement to respond,” said Cathy Norris, spokeswoman for BNSF.
Lawmakers weren’t convinced the bill would be a game changer for both rail companies, the only two in the state.
Because the bill gave the security officers the authority to make arrests, it would have saved sheriffs and chiefs of police time by not having to fill out paperwork and filing charges in court, said Tony Rose, a member of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.
The bill explicitly stated that it didn’t give the security officers the same authority as law enforcement.
The bill died in the Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee by a vote of 5 to 4.