MENDON, Mo. — Four months after a deadly trail derailment in north-central Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson stopped in Mendon Thursday to thank the community and first responders.
At the end of June, Northwestern High School in Chariton County, about 100 miles northwest of Kansas City, was where Amtrak passengers were brought as first responders worked down the street at the scene. Back in June, an Amtrak Southwest Chief train hit a dump truck at a public crossing and then derailed near Mendon, north of Marshall.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said eight cars were affected, and seven derailed.
“On June 27, over 250 strangers were involved in a tragic accident just miles from our school,” superintendent of Northwestern R-1 School District Eric Hoyt said Thursday. “Our community responded like they were helping old friends or neighbors.”
The Amtrak train was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago. After the train hit the dump truck at the crossing, the truck was in pieces. Four people died, including the driver of the dump truck, and more than 150 were injured.
“I know that nobody that responded that day expected any thanks or gratitude, they did it because it was the right thing,” Hoyt said.
“I’ve been at tornado sites, I’ve been in floods, I’ve been in droughts, I’ve been in civil unrest, I’ve been at a lot of things in my career as my governor, but I’ll tell you, nobody did any better than what you folks did,” Parson said told the gymnasium full of students, community members and first responders.
Parson showed appreciation to those who responded back in June Thursday at an event at the high school. Not only did police officers and firefighters respond that day, but so did community members and some students.
“I just want to say thanks for everything that you’ve all done during one of the most difficult times,” Parson said. “You should be very proud if your community.”
The crossings didn’t have signals to warn the truck driver. Earlier this year before the accident, the state’s transportation department submitted a plan to the federal railroad administration to install lights and gates along with roadway improvements at that crossing.
“Those trains go by every day, and we take that for granted if you live in this area because you know they are going to go by, but you’re never quite ready for that moment when you have in that case, a derailment, a terrible accident where lives are lost,” Parson said.
Parson said the state is re-evaluating crossings like the one in Chariton County, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation on average it costs $400,000 to upgrade a crossing.
Out of the 6,564 highway-rail crossings in Missouri, about 3,500 of them don’t have warning lights or arms. That’s about half of all the crossings in the state. Those types of crossings that do not have warning signals are called “passive.” “Active crossings” have lights, horns, crossing arms, or other signals to alert drivers of a train.
“The reality of it is, we all know in rural Missouri you’re not going to be able to have a crossing for every road that goes across the railroad tracks,” Parson said.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a preliminary report said the Amtrak train was traveling at 87 mph, three miles under the speed limit in that area.
More than 100 first responders responded to the scene in June. Dozens were at the event Thursday afternoon, but no one would go on camera because multiple lawsuits have been filed.