Happening Now

Rural Highway Grade Crossings Get New Focus

July 21, 2022

Federal safety investigators examining the June 27th derailment of the Southwest Chief at a rural grade crossing in Missouri say they’re ready to turn their attention to highway railroad grade crossing design specifications, railcar design and crashworthiness, and survival factors after issuing their preliminary findings of fact on Thursday.

The derailment happened when a 2007 Kenworth W900B dump truck blocked a highway railroad grade crossing on BNSF Railway territory. The eastbound Chief collided with the dump truck, killing the truck driver. The entire eight-car consist derailed, killing three passengers and injuring many other passengers and Amtrak crew members.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in its findings that the grade crossing, while passive, was clearly marked with crossbucks and a stop sign, that the Amtrak train was running below the 90 mph speed limit for that section of BNSF’s Marceline Subdivision, and that the weather was clear with no precipitation at the time of the incident.

Now investigators will dig in to detailed analyses intended to determine the probable cause of the incident as well as any contributing factors, a process likely to take many months.

The incident highlighted how much more seriously our communities need to take grade-crossing safety. Last year alone, grade-crossing incidents killed 236 people and injured 662. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law sets aside $3 billion over five years for grants to communities looking to eliminate at-grade crossings, improving existing crossings, increasing access to emergency services, speeding crossings to reduce emissions from cars idling while they wait.

The Transportation Dept. announced the first round of funding for this program -- $573 million – just three days after the Missouri derailment and four days after a car blocked a Northern California crossing and got hit by an Amtrak train.

It’s all very tragic and mostly unnecessary. The Federal Railroad Administration reports that 94% of all rail-related fatalities and injuries happen at rail crossings, nearly all of them preventable. Railroad crossing incidents are the second leading cause of rail-related deaths in this country. Meanwhile, there’s a real risk that small communities won’t have the wherewithal even to compete for these life-saving funds. Your Association is making this a priority during the next few months, and will work to make sure that rural communities – like Mendon, Mo. – are able to get the protection they deserve.