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Deadly Amtrak crash pressures MoDOT to address railroad crossing

Amtrak NTSB train derail Mendon crash 5.png
Posted at 7:22 PM, Jun 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-06 14:41:32-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The project to make safety improvements at the Porche Prairie Avenue railroad crossing in Mendon is now in motion.

In an interview with Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna, KSHB 41 Investigator Cameron Taylor found out there will be a meeting between MoDOT, Chariton County, and the railroad company, BNSF, within 30 days.

The meeting will be a site visit. Engineers will agree on the improvements that need to be made and then the work can be scheduled.

McKenna admitted it took the NTSB's subsequent meeting on Wednesday to bring the three parties together after Monday's deadly train derailment.

Thursday's on-camera interview came after the KSHB 41 I-Team pushed for answers about the crossing. It took the 41 I-Team contacting MoDOT's director. Repeated requests to the agency's communications team were not granted.

The 41 I-Team uncovered the crossing was on a statewide improvement list and found out what it takes to get on the list.

"Every passive crossing is on it. Our goal, overall, would be to have no passive crossings exist at all. That is a goal," McKenna said.

We found out why Porche Prairie was specifically on it.

"It's a number of factors. Obviously, because primarily, because there is passenger rail that uses that line and it's a busy freight quarter," McKenna said.

We also learned concerns about the crossing had been raised since at least 2019, but no changes had been made.

"I can explain that by saying that there's a $500 million bill and $7 million a year to fix it," McKenna said. "So you've got a 60 to 80 year backlog on these types of crossings in the state of Missouri. That's how you explain that sort of thing."

McKenna said it takes about three to five years from when funding is approved for a project to be completed. In this case, the funding for the crossing at Porche Prairie Avenue was approved last July.

"I would like to think that in this case that would be accelerated," McKenna said.

McKenna believes the steepness of the crossing is a major issue.

"Certainly, the issue itself, there needs to be most likely softer grading because it did appear that the approach is a little steep, which probably makes it difficult to navigate for trucks going over that," McKenna said.

He also mentioned active signal lights and crossing arms may be solutions too.

McKenna said about 1,400 county road crossings in Missouri like Porche Prairie are considered "passive" meaning no active gates.