MENDEN, Mo. — Nearly half of railroad crossings in the U.S. and Missouri look like the one where an Amtrak train collided with a dump truck in Menden, Missouri Monday killing four people and injuring 150 passengers and crew members.
“This crossing it was a steep incline to get up to the crossing and it was protected only with a stop sign and a cross sign so that means it’s a passive crossing,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said.
Also known as uncontrolled crossings they don’t have crossing arms, warning lights, or bells. But farmer Mike Spencer sounded an alarm to Chariton County Commissioners in December of 2019 that crossing was particularly dangerous because of its steep approach.
Chariton County’s Presiding Commissioner Evan Emmerich said that same month a week later commissioners spoke to MoDOT Railroad Safety who said they were aware of the issue and had plans to repair it.
Emmerich said the County Commission met at that very crossing in March, 2021 with MoDOT Railroad Safety and an engineer talking about the steep approach and the angle of the intersection.
Again MoDOT said the crossing was on the list, but no timeline for repairs or upgrades was available.
It made it into a 2022 list of recommended upgrades as part of Missouri’s State Freight and Rail Plan at a price tag of $400,000. That project has yet to be funded.
“If there are things we can do better, we want to do better. Financially we should be able to make changes for safety,” Missouri Governor Mike Parson said.
Tuesday, MoDOT told FOX4 it wasn’t aware of any prior complaints about the crossing, as did NTSB investigators, though they said they’d look into it.
“We will be aware. We have not been aware of specific complaints about this crossing,” Homendy said when asked about the county conversations with MoDOT since 2019.
Finally just last month commissioners made a final plea to at least cut back the brush to improve visibility at the crossing. This time Emmerich said MoDOT didn’t respond.
“This is a railroad safety issue sorry to say. It’s a tragedy it really is it shouldn’t have happened,” Spencer said looking at the derailed Amtrak train bound for Chicago from L.A.
NTSB Chair Homendy said investigators are extremely frustrated when safety recommendations aren’t followed. Tough for passengers like Antwoine Patton, who had just boarded the Amtrak train in Kansas City to hear. He’s one of the lucky few of the more than 200 aboard who escaped with only emotional scars.
“Next time I get on a train that’s going through farm areas, I’d like to know that the intersections in those farm areas are properly handled,” Patton said.
NTSB says they’ve been making recommendations for years for states and the railroad to work together to close or consolidate those uncontrolled crossings. There are 3,500 such crossings in Missouri. MoDOT says it only has $7.5 million annually to try to improve them.
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