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Missouri Department of Transportation knew crossing was not safe before Amtrak crash

Watch the replay of the NTSB press conference regarding the Amtrak crash.

CHARITON COUNTY, Mo. (KMIZ)

The Missouri Department of Transportation identified the crossing where an Amtrak train crashed into a dump truck Monday as needing safety improvements earlier this year.

The death toll from an Amtrak train crash and derailment Monday in Chariton County is now up to four.

The NTSB has begun the investigation into what caused the fatal Amtrak train crash in Chariton County.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy says Amtrak train 4 was traveling east on the Southwest Chief line from Los Angeles to Chicago when a truck that was owned and operated by MS Contracting, LLC out of Brookfield, Mo. was transporting aggregate to an Army Corp of Engineers project just north of the crossing. The train then hit the tail end of the dump truck at 12:43 p.m. causing the train to derail.

Homendy says the whole train (two locomotives, six cars, a cafe car and a baggage car) derailed.

The NTSB’s investigation will include downloading the event recorder that will give them information on when the engineer blew the horn, the speed of the train, brake application, downloading the two forward-facing cameras, information from the truck, and signal system and interviewing the train crew.

Passengers were taken to 10 different hospitals. The NTSB will not give any information on the number of deaths and injuries. They will defer that information to the medical examiner.  

The NTSB will provide more information tomorrow including how fast the train was traveling at the time of the crash.

Officials knew dangers of the crossing

The crossing had been slated for improvements including lights and gates, according to a Missouri Department of Transportation planning document. Mike Spencer, who farms in the area, said locals have talked with MoDOT about the danger at the crossing.

"It was pretty predictable," Spencer said.

 Chariton County's presiding commissioner said the commission contacted a state agency in December 2019 about upgrades at the rail crossing, The Associated Press reported.

Antonio Romanucci, a lawyer who specializes in this type of accident, said a big problem is that it's an unprotected crossing.

"And why wasn't this upgraded?" Romanucci said. "Well, there's always the issue of cost and timing and when the federal funds were going to come in."

The project is not funded by MoDOT, it's on a list of projects the department wants to do. Jim Hall, former chairman of the NTSB, said the government should invest in railway safety more.

"We should have a much more sophisticated train system in the United States than we do, but we haven't invested in it," Hall said.

Jeffrey Schramm, a history professor at Missouri S&T, said the stretch of track in that area is well-maintained and Amtrak trains are authorized to go up to 90 mph there.

"As my dad who worked for the railroad many years said, 'expect a train at any time on any track in any direction,'" Schramm told ABC 17 News. "You might cross that crossing 100 times, but on that 101st time, you never know."

Fourth person has died

The Missouri State Highway Patrol said Tuesday that a fourth person in the crash died at University Hospital. About 150 people total were taken to 10 hospitals around the area after the crash in Mendon, Missouri, that derailed the train, the patrol said. Amtrak said about 275 people were on the train, which had eight passenger cars and two engines, including the crew.

A National Transportation Safety Board team arrived Tuesday at the site near Mendon to investigate the crash, the agency tweeted a little before 11:30 a.m. The NTSB planned a news conference for 4 p.m.

The derailment happened shortly before 1 p.m. Monday after an Amtrak passenger train crashed into a dump truck at a crossing near Mendon, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Aerial video of the crash aftermath

Troopers said the dump truck driver and two people on the train were killed in the collision. A spokesperson for Boone Health in Columbia told ABC 17 News the hospital treated and released 28 people from the derailment.

As of Tuesday afternoon, MU Health Care had treated 18 patients and released eight of them.

The NTSB said Monday that a 16-member go-team would head to the area to investigate the derailment.

Jeffrey Schramm, an engineering professor at Missouri S&T, said the stretch of track in that area is well-maintained and Amtrak trains are authorized to go up to 90 mph there.

"As my dad who worked for the railroad many years said, 'expect a train at any time on any track in any direction,'" Schramm told ABC 17 News. "You might cross that crossing 100 times, but on that 101st time, you never know."

The crossing had been slated for improvements including lights and gates, according to a Missouri Department of Transportation planning document. Mike Spencer, who farms in the area, said locals have talked with MoDOT about the danger at the crossing.

"It was pretty predictable," Spencer said.

 Chariton County's presiding commissioner said the commission contacted a state agency in December 2019 about upgrades at the rail crossing, The Associated Press reported.

Amtrak has set up a number for families to get more information about the derailment. That number is 800-USA-Rail.

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