MENDON, Mo. — The National Transportation Safety Board has released its final report Wednesday on a deadly Amtrak train crash in Mendon, Missouri.
In June 2022, four people were killed and over 140 people were injured when an Amtrak train hit a dump truck at an uncontrolled railroad crossing, causing both locomotives and all eight passenger railcars to derail.
People living in the area said they’d complained about the crossing for years. There’s only a stop sign and a railroad crossing sign, no crossing arms, warning lights or bells. Residents said it was steep and difficult to see if a train was coming until it was too late.
The NTSB started investigating the day after the crash, inspecting the crossing’s design, the railcar’s design, survival factors and data from the train’s event recorder.
In the agency’s final report, the NTSB determined the probable cause of the crash was the truck driver, 54-year-old Bill Barton II, proceeding for unknown reasons into the crossing without stopping despite the stop sign at the crossing and an approaching train. Barton died in the crash.
But the NTSB said the crossing’s design, “which reduced drivers’ ability to see approaching trains and made stopping as required by Missouri law difficult for heavy trucks,” also contributed to the crash.
The final report said event recorder data and interviews confirmed the train engineer sounded the horn five times before the collision.
The NTSB’s preliminary report determined the train was traveling 89 mph, which is below the 90 mph maximum speed allowed at that location.
The final report said the dump truck was traveling 5-6 mph as it reached and drove over the crossing without stopping. The vehicle’s speedometer needle was stopped at 5 mph when the NTSB examined it.
The engineer initiated an emergency application of the train’s air brakes, bringing its speed down to 87 mph when it collided with the dump truck and derailed.
Amtrak and BSNF determined the crash caused $4 million in damage to the train and tracks.
When it comes to litigation, the question of who’s to blame for all that damage is still up for debate.
Multiple lawsuits have been filed since the train derailment. The cases between victims, families of victims, Amtrak, railroad company BNSF and more are ongoing.
A possible trial could still be years away.
The NTSB determined the grade dropped 39 inches, or 10.8%, from the nearside rail at the Porche Prairie Crossing. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials recommends the road surface near a crossing not slope down more than 3 inches.
The agency also noted there potholes and humps on the gravel road approaching the crossing.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol also interviewed another driver from MS Contracting, the company Barton worked for. That driver said the gravel was “spongey” and made the trucks bounce.
He said “he did not stop on the sloped grade near the crossing because of the difficulty
of accelerating afterward. Instead, he would slow or stop on the flat portion of the grade,” the NTSB wrote in its report.
The agency also noted three trees near the tracks, which investigators determined could obstruct a driver’s view of an approaching train if they stopped about 50 feet before the crossing. The trees wouldn’t block the view 15 feet before the crossing, the NTSB said.
Over a year later, the four lives lost — 56-year-old Kim Holsapple and 57-year-old Rochelle Cook of De Soto, 82-year-old Binh Phan of Kansas City, and Barton — plus the more than 150 people injured, remain top of mind.
But one question that lingers for many is did those people have to die or could this have all been prevented?
“I’m frustrated that I tried to prevent an accident from happening here, knowing that if an accident happened here, we would probably lose our crossing,” farmer Mike Spencer told FOX4 last month.
And he was right. The crossing is still closed to this day.
In April 2021, a full year before the crash, Spencer met with the county, engineers and stakeholders, trying to address the problem. Nothing happened.
With the crossing closed now, farmers must drive 6-and-a-half miles around just to do their job.
They fear if there’s an emergency, an already slow response time due to their location could be even longer.
The NTSB said when the train derailed, several windows and exterior doors were significantly damaged from impact with the ground, allowing track ballast and soil to enter passenger cars.
Two of the passengers who died were killed in the lounge car, according to the NTSB, and their cause of death was compression asphyxia, meaning they couldn’t breathe due to pressure on the body.
The NTSB report determined the windows had shattered in the lounge car, allowing multiple feet of gravel and soil to accumulate.
These findings led to the NTSB issuing the following recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration:
- Develop a performance standard to ensure windows stay in the window opening structure during an accident.
- Research the causes of passenger injuries in derailments and evaluate potential ways to mitigate injuries, such as seat belts or securing projectiles.
- Use the findings to develop new standards for passenger railcars to prevent injuries.
The NTSB report comes just one day before Gov. Parson and the Missouri Department of Transportation are set to announce a new Missouri Railroad Safety Crossing plan.
On Thursday, the governor plans to sign House Bill 4, which includes $50 million in state funding to improve over 45 passive railroad crossings.
The governor’s office said the state is focusing on 47 crossings on the three rail lines that carry passenger trains in Missouri. Parson and MoDOT also plan to share results of an independent review of these rail lines.
Details about which rail crossings specifically will see improvements have not been released yet. FOX4 will be in Jefferson City and have live coverage of the announcement.
The state has more than 3,300 public rail crossings. MoDOT previously said about 50% of the crossings have lights and/or gates. Fewer than 500 of those crossings are managed by the state. MoDOT said just 22 of those are passive crossings without any kind of warning system.
There are also over 2,800 crossings managed by individual communities and counties. MoDOT said about 1,400 of those are considered passive crossings.
State officials will also hold a moment of silence for the victims of that 2022 Amtrak crash.