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Crossing where deadly Amtrak crash unfolded was on a safety upgrade to-do list: report

Bill Lukitsch, The Kansas City Star on

Published in News & Features

The rural Missouri railroad crossing where an Amtrak train struck a dump truck before becoming derailed, an incident that killed three and injured dozens on Monday, is among several where potential safety hazards had already been identified in a recent statewide report.

Two people on the train and a person in the dump truck were killed, authorities said Monday. As many as 50 people were also injured in the disaster, which toppled eight rail cars over, prompting a massive emergency response.

The state report, issued in February as part of the Missouri State Freight and Rail Plan, listed the crossing on Porche Prairie Road as one of roughly two dozen in Missouri along the BNSF Railway tracks that had been evaluated for public safety.

For Porche Prairie, the report suggested lights, gates and roadway improvements were needed at the crossing. A project addressing those concerns was estimated to cost roughly $400,000 with roughly 80% of the funding to be sourced from the federal government, the report says.

There are approximately 3,800 public highway-rail crossings in Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Office of Multimodal Operations, which oversees rail services in the state.

Each year from 2017 to 2021, MoDOT has improved the safety features at about 20 of those crossings. The Mendon crossing is on the list of proposed improvements.

Nearly half of public train crossings in Missouri are not equipped with active warning devices such as bells, flashing lights and gates, according to a MoDOT report.

“Only the crossings with extreme amounts of train and vehicle traffic or other sight distance problems will receive lights/gates because the need is great,” the agency wrote on its website.

 

MoDOT did not provide comment after being contacted by The Star.

The railroad tracks carry freight trains as well as Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, the long-distance route that runs between Chicago and L.A. Passengers on Monday’s train were taking that route to Chicago before the crash in Mendon, Missouri.

Earlier this month, Michael Spencer, a Mendon farmer, filmed a freight train going down the track at what he estimated to be around 50 mph — and warned of the potential safety hazard.

Spencer and other locals told The Star the tracks there have long been considered dangerous because of the lack of signals, the brush along the tracks and the steep incline at the passing —where heavy equipment travels frequently. Over the past three years, Spencer and others in the community have been in discussions with the railroad, a safety engineer from the MoDOT, a county commissioner and a railroad engineer with the goal of improving safety at the crossing.

“I was certain that this was going to happen,” Spencer told The Star on Monday. “It was just a matter of time.”

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©2022 The Kansas City Star. Visit at kansascity.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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