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NTSB's visit to Mendon shines light on passive crossings in Missouri

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Posted at 7:21 PM, Jun 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-06 15:04:32-04

MENDON, Mo. — The National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Mendon, Missouri, on Tuesday to investigate Monday’s deadly crash at a passive crossing, which does not feature arms, warning lights or warning bells — all features of active crossings.

"In Missouri, there are 3500 passive crossings," NTSB chairwoman Jennifer Homendy said.

Homendy added that 53% of serious crashes in the state happen at these passive crossings.

"The NTSB has issued recommendations for a number of years on either closing crossings, consolidating crossings or separating grade crossings," Homendy said.

Homendy said the recommendations have been made after a 1998 study about alerting drivers to oncoming trains.

"Anytime our recommendations aren't heeded, of course I'm upset because we see tragedy after tragedy after tragedy, and numerous fatalities and injuries," she said. "It's very frustrating for our investigators, very frustrating when they are on scene and they know what would have prevented this."

Turning passive crossings into active ones comes with a price tag.

The Missouri Department of Transportation told NTSB a Mendon crash site crossing upgrade would cost $400,000.

"The fewer points we have in the country where it's even physically possible for a train and a car to collide, the safer this country will be," Pete Buttigieg, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, said on NBC News.

Buttigieg's department's fact sheet on the 2021 infrastructure package says that Missouri would "be eligible to compete for $10 billion for rail improvement and safety grants and $5.5 billion for grade crossing safety improvements.”

However, the department doesn’t specify how that money would be prioritized. To read more about infrastructure law's impact on Missouri, click here.

When posed with a hypothetical crossing improvement in Mendon at the site of the Amtrak derailment, NTSB laid out who would be responsible for that construction and cost.

"This is a county road, and so there's a partnership between the county, the state for funding, and frankly, BNSF because it's their railway," Homendy said. "And so it really is the three entities working together that would be responsible for installing active warning devices at this crossing."