Local farmer Mike Spencer and others in the community have been in discussions with the railroad, a safety engineer from the Missouri Department of Transportation, a county commissioner, and a railroad engineer with the goal of improving safety at the crossing for three years. While authorities have agreed to do something, nothing had happened ahead of Monday’s Amtrak derailment, Spencer told the Kansas City Star.
“This is on the railroad’s shoulders,” Spencer said. “They have known this is a problem. … They were concerned, but not concerned enough to do anything. I mean, my heart goes out to the families who are involved here, whether they have loved ones injured, dead, or whatever. It’s just a tragedy. And I don’t feel like it should have happened.”
The crossing where the derailment occurred is identified by MoDOT for funding for improvements, which could include lights, gates, and roadway improvements. MoDOT will now seek to work with BNSF Railway and Chariton County to develop a solution and schedule, with the railroad company hiring a contractor to complete the work and MoDOT administering the federal reimbursement, MoDOT’s communications director told the Washington Examiner.
Spencer had uploaded a Facebook video on June 11 about the railroad crossing, warning drivers to stop at the tracks and to look both ways, as there are two tracks at the crossing with around 85 trains going through every day. The farmers in the area “have been on the RR for several years” to ask them to put up signals or just to cut the brush near the tracks back, Spencer wrote.
Another local farmer, Daryl Jacobs, who has lived in the area his whole life, called the crossing “very dangerous.”
“It needs arms on it or signals,” Jacobs said. “It’s so dang steep. I heard that truck just stalled out today going up it. That’s what I heard. And this dang brush along these railroad tracks all needs to be cleared back.”
Each year, from 2017 to 2021, MoDOT has improved the safety features at about 20 of those crossings. The Mendon crossing, where the Amtrak train derailed, 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.
Jacobs’s daughter-in-law, Shannon, was sitting on the porch of a nearby home and called 911 after she saw the train hit a dump truck.
At least three people are confirmed dead after the train traveling to Chicago carrying over 200 passengers struck the truck at the crossing and derailed. Of the three confirmed fatalities, one was in the dump truck at the time, and two others were in one of the approximately eight train cars.
“Multiple” other injuries were reported, Justin Dunn of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said in a press conference.