Parson says $50 million for safer Missouri railroad crossings is ‘just a start’

(The Center Square) – Spending $50 million to make Missouri’s railroad crossings safer is only a starting point, according to state officials.

Gov. Mike Parson and Patrick McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, announced the funding Thursday, the day after the National Transportation Safety Board released a report on a fatal truck and train collision last year. The report found the steepness of the road and the angle of the intersection at a crossing led to an Amtrak train colliding with a dump truck in Mendon, a town of 163 people in northern Missouri. The truck driver and three train passengers were killed and 146 passengers and crew were injured.

Joining Parson was Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Amit Bose, the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, at a press conference in Jefferson City. All expressed condolences for the lives lost, those injured and praised the actions of local, state and federal officials after the accident.

“I want to remind everyone what that day was to that community,” Parson said. “It’s now about moving forward. It’s about not letting it happen again. It’s about figuring out ways that we can do it better.”

Homendy praised the work undertaken by local and state officials after the accident.

“That we didn’t issue any safety recommendations because action was already taken, that really is incredible,” Homendy said. “We rarely see that at NTSB. This is a great example of teamwork.”

McKenna said an assessment on all passive rail crossings – those without gates or flashing lights – was conducted by an independent organization to be free of influence by his department, the railroads and municipalities. It resulted in a plan to work with railroads and communities maintaining roads to address 47 passive crossings on three lines carrying passenger trains. However, there are 1,422 passive crossings throughout the state.

“We want to show progress so we can renew this program in future budgets,” McKenna said. “How many we can get improved is going to depend on the cooperation from communities and the railroad companies. Our goal is to make as many improvements that have been recommended in the next 12 months.”

McKenna said the state has underinvested in roads for a generation. Parson said he’s now viewing funding for crossings as an annual budget item.

“I don’t think there’s any question this is just a start,” Parson said. “Patrick was saying infrastructure has never been a priority like it has been in this administration when it comes to funding… We’ve got to step up our game to make things safer.”

Rep. Tim Taylor, R-Bunceton whose district includes Mendon, said railroad crossings are challenging for those in rural areas as drivers sometimes must travel long distances to cross tracks.

“Tragedies happen, unfortunately, and they continue to happen,” said Taylor, who was a firefighter for 30 years before entering the House. “What’s the bigger tragedy is when nothing happens after that. Addressing this issue is important not only to our rural communities but but to the state.”

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