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KCPD: Railroad company took extra precautions before deadly wreck

Posted at 5:27 PM, Jun 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-21 21:55:48-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, police on Friday continued to investigate why a driver going west on Front Street didn't stop for an oncoming train Thursday night at a railroad crossing near North Topping Avenue.

The driver survived, but the male passenger — identified Friday as Gary D. Heishman, 56, of Kansas City, Missouri — with her did not.

At the railroad crossing in the East Bottoms, there are signs on both sides instructing drivers to yield at the crossing.

Police said at the time of Thursday's crash, the railroad company was taking additional safety precautions.

"We're being told the conductor had departed the train and had marked the westbound lanes with flares (and) was in the process of marking the eastbound lanes when the collision occurred," KCPD Sgt. Bill Mahoney told 41 Action News.

Kansas City Southern Railway, which operates on the track, said in a statement the conductor was at the crossing with a lantern:

At approximately 9 p.m. on June 20, a Kansas City Southern train was moving through the Front Street crossing in Kansas City, Mo. when it was struck by a vehicle moving at a high rate of speed. The collision resulted in a fatality to the passenger of the vehicle. No KCS employees were injured in the collision. The appropriate level of warning at each crossing is determined by each state’s department of transportation. The Front Street crossing is marked with railroad crossbucks and yield signs and complies with federal regulation. The conductor was on the crossing with a lantern and had placed flares in both the east and westbound lanes.
C. Doniele Carlson, AVP Corporate Communications & Community Affairs, The Kansas City Southern Railway Company

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the crossing is known as a "passive crossing," one that does not have crossing arms or flashing lights to indicate when a train is approaching.

On Friday, employees at businesses near the crossing told 41 Action News there's barely any train traffic there.

Federal data reflects that on average, two trains pass through daily. Those trains travel slowly: the speed limit is 10 miles per hour.

While KCPD statistics show there have been nine crashes in the last two years at the nearby intersection of Front Street and North Topping Avenue, safety records show the crossing itself has only had four incidents since 1977 before Thursday's deadly wreck.

This spring, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration relaunched a nearly $6 million awareness campaign for railroad crossings.

Last year, 270 people were killed at railroad crossings across the country.

"Always be looking," Mahoney said. "You got a yield sign in place — you know it's for a reason."

Mahoney said the tragedy should serve as a reminder for all drivers to be vigilant at any railroad crossing.