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Rural Missouri crossing where Amtrak struck truck was slated for improvements

A silver and blue train engine sits on railroad tracks in Kansas City, MO. It is marked with the words "Amtrak."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The Southwest Chief sits on the tracks behind Union Station in Kansas City on Tuesday morning.

The public crossing in Mendon, Missouri, did not have any lights or gates to warn drivers of oncoming trains. That will change, according to MoDOT’s improvement plan. The National Transportation Safety Board says they have been recommending improvements for crossings like this one for decades.

The Amtrak train derailment that killed four people and injured approximately 150 happened at a public crossing with no active warning signals — something state officials were aware of and planning to fix.

The crossing at County Road 113 and Porche Prairie Road in Mendon, Missouri — about 100 miles outside of Kansas City — was identified for improvement in the Missouri Department of Transportation’s State Freight & Rail Plan report published in February of this year.

The crossing is on a gravel road level with the tracks and only has a crossbuck sign used to indicate a railway crossing. The Mendon crossing is one of 50% of at-grade public crossings in Missouri that do not have active lights or gates. In a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy said Missouri has about 3,500 "passive crossings" like the one in Mendon.

Homendy said the NTSB has recommended lights and bells at such crossings since the 1990's.

"It's been 24 years and that recommendation is still as important today as it was in 1998 lives could be saved.

Eric Brown, a lieutenant with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, says most rural crossings are uncontrolled.

“It's an uncontrolled crossbuck intersection on a gravel road. So no lights, no electronic control devices, things such as that,” Brown said. “A lot of your rural intersections are that way.”

About 70% of public, at-grade crossings are located in rural parts of Missouri.

The train, en route from Los Angeles to Chicago via Kansas City, struck a dump truck loaded with rock. The impact derailed several cars, killing the truck driver and three train passengers.

The upgrades are projected to cost $400,000 and will likely include lights, gates and roadway improvements.

A portion of a graph from MoDOT's State Freight & Rail Plan report detailing the costs for the Mendon crossing upgrades.
A portion of a graph from MoDOT's State Freight & Rail Plan report detailing the costs for the Mendon crossing upgrades.

MoDOT generates the rail plan as part of a requirement to receive federal funds provided for the state’s rail networks.

The state generates about $1.5 million each year from a 25 cent state motor vehicle licensing fee and $6 million in Federal Railroad Administration funds. The agencies allocate those funds for work with private railroads on improving crossings.

The crossing project in Mendon will require $325,000 in federal funds and $75,000 from the state’s grade crossing safety account.

A contractor with BNSF and the Chariton County, where Mendon is located, will conduct the work in conjunction with MoDOT.

“The next step for this location is to work with these parties to develop an agreed upon solution and schedule,” said Linda Horn, communications director for MoDOT. “ Then, the railroad company will hire a contractor to complete the work and MoDOT will administer the federal reimbursement.”

Updated: June 28, 2022 at 5:55 PM CDT
This story was updated to include initial findings from the National Transportation Safety Board.
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