Site of fatal Amtrak derailment scheduled for safety improvements in 2022, yet construction never began

MENDON, Mo. – After the derailment of an Amtrak train killed four and injured roughly 150 people on Monday, it is now known that safety improvements had been approved but not implemented for the site.

Meaning, the crash may have been completely avoidable. 

The Chicago-bound train collided with a dump truck that was on the tracks at around 12:40 p.m. near Mendon, Missouri, causing seven of the eight cars on the train to derail and fall over, killing the truck driver and three train passengers. 

Much of the blame for the accident has been put on the crossing and its lack of lights and standard safety measures. In addition, the intersection sits on a bend where visibility of incoming trains is restricted.

While looking into the cause of the derailment – and why the desolate crossing had no lights or safety measures put in place for crossing traffic – Kansas City’s KMBC 9 Investigates found the intersection had actually been approved for safety improvements in the Missouri Department of Transportation’s 2022 State Freight & Rail Plan

Safety upgrades slated for 2022 included the installation of lights and crossing gates at the intersection – measures that many believe could have prevented the tragedy. However, the scheduled improvements had yet to commence at the time of the accident.

“We’ve tried for the last two or three years to get the railroad to fix this approach,” Chariton County farmer Mike Spencer told KMBC on Monday. “I was afraid this was going to happen to somebody that was not really familiar with the crossing and how to approach it.”

MoDOT Communications Director Linda Horn said department staff had reached out to BNSF Railway to begin a diagnostic review of the intersection in early 2022 to see which safety measures were needed. BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent said nothing came of it, and a date to complete the diagnostic reviews was never set.

“It is a process, and MoDOT would be the lead agency to coordinate with all the parties,” Kent told KMBC. “We could not move forward with additional crossing warning devices until a diagnostic had been set up and all parties agreed to what warning devices would be installed.

“Once that is determined, then the devices would need to be designed, built and installed. All work to the approaches would be in the county’s jurisdiction.”

Attorney Jeff Goodman, who has represented families involved in Amtrak crashes across the country, says the dangers of the crossing were well-known throughout the community, even before the accident.

“All of the eyewitness reports from the people who would travel through this crossing on a daily basis indicated that there were blind spots and that visibility was a challenge,” Goodman told KMBC. “That is exactly the type of crossing that needs extra protections.”

According to a U.S. Department of Transportation Crossing Inventory Form, trains can travel up to 90 mph through the Mendon-area railroad crossing. 

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