A dump truck driver thought he could outrun a speeding train.
MENDON — The chief elected official in the Missouri county where
an Amtrak train slammed into a dump truck said Tuesday that
residents and county leaders have been pushing for a safety
upgrade at the railroad crossing for nearly three years.
Meanwhile, the toll from the accident rose to four deaths and
A day after the deadly crash on Monday, the Missouri State
Highway Patrol said people were taken to 10 hospitals with
injuries ranging from minor to serious. By Tuesday afternoon, at
least 15 people remained hospitalized. The dead — three
passengers and the truck driver — have not been identified.
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief was traveling from Los Angeles to
Chicago when it struck the rear of the truck. Two locomotives
and eight cars derailed. Amtrak officials said about 275
passengers and 12 crew members were aboard.
National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Jennifer L.
Homendy said at a news conference that the truck was owned by MS
Contracting of Brookfield, Missouri, and was transporting
material to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project nearby.
Homendy said investigators will download recorder information to
determine the speed of the train, when the horn was blown and if
the emergency brake was deployed. She said some of that
information could be released as early as Wednesday. The speed
limit at the crossing is 90 mph.
The crossing in a rural area near Mendon in western Missouri has
no lights or other signals to warn of an approaching train.
Chariton County Presiding Commissioner Evan Emmerich said in an
email to The Associated Press that resident Mike Spencer first
brought his concerns about the crossing to a Dec. 2, 2019,
commission meeting. He was told to contact the Missouri
Department of Transportation’s Railroad Safety division. A week
later, commissioners spoke with officials from the state agency
and were told “it is on their plans to repair,” Emmerich said.
After that, Emmerich cited other efforts by the commission. They
included a March 2021 meeting with a state Railroad Safety
division engineer at the crossing site; an email sent to the
Railroad Safety division on May 23 to address concerns about
visibility at the crossing; and a May 31 call to BNSF Railway,
which owns the track, “to express our concerns with the
visibility issue” at the crossing.
In January, the Missouri Department of Transportation submitted
to the Federal Railroad Administration its “State Freight & Rail
Plan” plan. It included a proposal to install lights and gates,
along with roadway improvements. The project was estimated at
$400,000. Typically, the federal government would pay 80% and
the county 20%.
MoDOT spokeswoman Linda Horn said that with limited funds
available, “it takes a while to get these prioritized.” She said
the project has received approval in a four-year plan that runs
through fiscal year 2026.
BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent declined comment on “specific
conversations” about upgrades to the crossing, citing the NTSB
investigation, “however, I can tell you that BNSF has a
proactive vegetation management program across our network,” she
Spencer told The Associated Press that he is among several
people who have complained that the overgrowth of brush and the
steep incline from the road to the tracks makes it hard to see
oncoming trains from either direction. Spencer, who grows corn
and soybeans on land surrounding the intersection, said the
crossing is especially dangerous for those driving heavy, slow
Spencer is on the board of a local levee district. He said the
dump truck driver was hauling rock for a levee on a local creek,
a project that had been ongoing for a couple of days.
Earlier this month, Spencer posted a video on Facebook of the
crossing that shows the steep gravel incline leading up to it.
“We have to cross this with farm equipment to get to several of
our fields,” Spencer wrote with the posting. “We have been on
the RR for several years about fixing the approach by building
the road up, putting in signals, signal lights or just cutting
the brush back.”
Homendy said “passive” crossings like the one near Mendon make
up about half of all crossings in the U.S. She said there are
130,000 passive crossings nationwide and 3,500 in Missouri.
The NTSB has for years recommended actions such as closing
passive crossings or adding gates, bells and other upgrades at
passive crossings, Homendy said. She said the agency also has
recommended technology to alert drivers to the presence of an
oncoming train at crossings such as the one at Mendon that are
on an incline.
“Lives could be saved,” she said.
Kyle Bullard, a 21-year-old student at Lindenwood University in
suburban St. Louis, was traveling from a friend’s home in Kansas
City, Missouri, to Kalamazoo, Michigan, for a wedding. He fell
10 feet onto his back when his cab tipped over.
Bullard and his friend escaped and returned to help others out
of the train, but he said he’s still bothered by the image of a
woman buried in rubble. He said someone was holding her hand,
and he realized he couldn’t do anything to help her.
“We were grateful because we made it out alive, but we’re also
sad because some people didn’t. We’re sorry for those families,"
Bullard said. "Yeah, I survived the train crash and I helped
people, but it’s like, I did also see someone die. So it’s just
like, it is what it is. And I’m gonna have to move on from it.
But it’s just gonna be always in the back of my head.”
The incident in Missouri was among three fatal Amtrak accidents
Three people in a car were killed Sunday afternoon when an
Amtrak commuter train smashed into it in Northern California,
authorities said. Also, on Monday in Detroit, two people died
when their vehicle collided with an Amtrak train. Police Chief
James White said officers were dispersing drag racers and one
vehicle sped away and tried to beat the train.
People have been injured or killed in at least six other
accidents involving Amtrak trains since 2015. Last year, three
people died and others were injured when an Amtrak derailed in
north-central Montana as it traveled from Chicago to Seattle.
Amtrak is a federally supported company that operates more than
300 passenger trains daily in nearly every contiguous U.S. state
and parts of Canada. The Southwest Chief takes about two days to
travel from Los Angeles to Chicago, picking up passengers at
stops in between.
Ballentine reported from Columbia. Associated Press reporters
Margaret Stafford in Kansas City and Jim Salter in O'Fallon,
contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune:
Upgrades urged at Amtrak train crash site in Missouri, but no