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NTSB rules out mechanical issue, track damage in deadly Amtrak derailment

Amtrak southwest chief derail mendon missouri
Posted at 5:12 PM, Jun 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-28 21:41:32-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board have ruled out a mechanical issue with the train or damaged tracks as the cause of a deadly train crash and derailment, which left at least four people dead and sent approximately 150 people to hospitals across Missouri.

“I do not have concerns about mechanical failure about the train (or) any mechanical issues with the train,” NTBS Chair Jennifer Homendy said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Mendon, Missouri. “We do not have any concern about the track.”

Less than two hours after a stop at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri, train No. 4 on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route crashed at the Porche Prairie Avenue crossing near Mendon.

Homendy said a dump truck owned and operated by MS Contracting LLC based in Brookfield, Missouri, was on the tracks at the unsecured crossing.

The driver, who was killed in the crash along with three passengers, was transporting aggregate — a load of rocks — to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project just north of the crossing.

“Our concerns are very focused on this grade crossing, the approach to the grade crossing and survivability after an accident,” Homendy said.

The Amtrak train — which had around 275 passengers and 12 crew members, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol — struck the back of the dump truck and derailed after impact.

The NTSB, an independent federal agency that investigates civil transportation crashes to determine what caused a crash and set policy to prevent future tragedies, had no update on the exact number of people killed and injured in the crash.

“I’m not comfortable releasing any information unless I’m exact on that number,” Homendy said.

Homendy said the Missouri Department of Transportation director confirmed that the crossing was on a list for planned upgrades, but that “passive grade crossing” had not been updated.

Community members around Mendon have complained about the dangers of the crossing, which only has crossbuck “Railroad Crossing” signs but no no arms, warning bells or whistles.

Homendy said there are 130,000 passive crossings in the United States, or roughly 50% of all railroad crossings, including 3,500 in Missouri. Most train collisions in Missouri happen at passive crossings.

“We will be aware,” Homendy said when asked if the NTSB was aware of the complaints prior to the crash. “We have not been aware that there have been specific complaints about this crossing.”

She said MoDOT officials said it would cost approximately $400,000 to make upgrades to the crossing.

“In this case, this is a county road, so there is a partnership between the county, the state and, frankly, BNSF, because it’s their railway,” Homendy said.

Those entities would share responsibility for making any safety improvements to the crossing.

The NTSB investigation, which is being conducted by a 16-member team, will include when the engineer blew the horn, the speed of the train as well as when and what type of brakes were applied. It also will include a review of the forward-facing cameras aboard the train and the electronic control module from the truck.

“We have crash-worthiness specialists that are on scene that will look at what occurred in the accident and how someone could survive an accident in the future,” Homendy said.

Homendy said the NTSB has preliminary data for the train’s speed but is confirming the size of the wheels to make sure the data is accurate.

Interviews with the 12 crew members have already started.

There are two members of the NTSB’s Transportation Disaster Assistance Team, which are working with the families of the victims transported to the 10 hospitals.

At least one was flown by air ambulance to University Health’s downtown KCMO hospital.

Stephen Gardner, the CEO of Amtrak, released a statement on Tuesday evening.

"We are deeply saddened by yesterday’s tragic event and mourn those who lost their lives." Gardner said. "For those who helped others, we want to express our heartfelt appreciation. This includes our hard-working front line team members, numerous local authorities and emergency personnel who quickly mobilized to help all at the scene, and our customers, including a group of Boy Scouts onboard who jumped in to help others,"

Gardner said Amtrak is cooperating fully with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), local law enforcement and other response agencies in the investigation.