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NTSB: Amtrak train was traveling at nearly 90 mph at time of Chariton County crash

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An Amtrak train was traveling at nearly 90 mph when it hit a dump truck Monday in Chariton County, causing the train to derail, a federal official said Wednesday.

The chair of the National Transportation Safety Board said in a news conference Wednesday in Mendon that the train was going 87 mph at impact. The train was going 89 mph a quarter-mile from the crossing when it blew its horn, Jennifer Homendy said. The track speed limit is 90 mph.

Homendy is leading a 16-person team of NTSB investigators looking into the crash that killed four people, including the dump truck driver. Two passengers from Kansas and one from Missouri were also killed.

Passengers Rochelle Cook, 58, and Kim Holsapple, 56, both of Desoto, Kansas, were pronounced dead at the scene and Binh Phan, 82, of Kansas City, died at University Hospital, the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Troop B said in a statement.

The patrol identified the driver of the dump truck that collided with the train as Billy Barton II, 53, of Brookfield. He was also pronounced dead at the scene. The crash happened when Barton's truck crossed the tracks and was hit by the train, which derailed.

Homendy described the crossing as steep and said people she met with, including a farmer and the presiding county commissioner, complained about the crossing's steepness and sight distance and noted its lack of lights and other features. The crossing's attributes will form part of the investigation, she said.

"There's a lot resting on a driver to be able to see a train at these crossings, particularly when there's such a steep incline," Homendy said.

The investigation will look at those factors, as well as the trucking company that operated the truck, state and training of workers on the train, the train's safety features and others, Homendy said. No passengers were thrown from the train during the crash and derailment, she said.

Homendy said more analysis of video from the train is needed to determine whether the truck was stuck on the track. Investigators have identified no problems with the train's brakes, she said.

Homendy said the investigation will conclude with action to make the crossing safer. The investigation will involve the owner of the track -- Burlington Northern Santa Fe -- Amtrak, MoDOT, train worker unions and other government agencies, she said.

"Zero (deaths) is always our goal and it would be a tragedy if we left here without talking about next steps," Homendy said. "I understand that there are so many crossings in Missouri and that there are some that may be in more dire shape than this one. But this is the one I'm focused on right now, because people died."

About 400,000 people ride the Southwest Chief, which was one its way from Los Angeles to Chicago when the crash happened, each year, Homendy said.

Cleanup of the eight cars and two locomotives that derailed after the train hit a dump truck crossing the tracks on Porche Prairie Avenue near Mendon continued Wednesday. The crossing did not have arms or lights. The train was carrying about 275 passengers and a dozen crew members, Amtrak has said.

About 150 people were treated for injuries after the Monday crash, according to a Missouri State Highway Patrol statement. University Hospital in Columbia treated 19 of those patients, with six remaining Wednesday morning. Boone Hospital treated several more.

A Chicago law office has been retained by a Kansas City family hurt in the crash, the law office said in a news release.

NTSB investigators said Tuesday that they could be at the crash scene for several days. Investigators will look at video evidence and interview people who were on the train.

Residents and officials in Chariton County have said they've been lobbying the state for improvements to the crossing, which was on a list of crossings set for upgrades.

Article Topic Follows: Transportation
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Matthew Sanders

Matthew Sanders is the digital content director at ABC 17 News.


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