Safety improvements at Missouri railroad crossings come at a slow pace

Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 6:24 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - The railroad crossing where an Amtrak train derailed Monday is on a Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) list of crossings scheduled for safety improvements.

The crossing on Porch Prairie Avenue in Chariton County is scheduled to receive lights and crossing arms but didn’t have those safety features at the time that a train struck a dump truck on the tracks, killing at least four people.

According to MoDOT, around 3,500 of the 6.564 railroad crossings in the state don’t have lights or gates and are considered “passive” crossings. 53% of the incidents at railroad crossings between 2016 and 2020 happened at passive crossings.

The responsibility for safety at railroad crossings is shared between the railroad company that owns the tracks and the city or county where the crossings are located. MoDOT shares the responsibility if the crossing is on a state highway.

The federal government has a program where it provides funding to states for making safety improvements at crossings. Missouri receives $6 million annually and pitches in another $1.5 million in state funding. MoDOT is the agency that distributes the money to cities and counties, which work with the railroad companies to do the projects. But the funding can only pay for improvements at about 20 crossings a year.

During the 15-year period from 2016 to 2020, there were several crossings in the St. Louis area that had more than one incident. They are crossings on Buchanan Street, near Gunther Salt, in St. Louis. There were two incidents where cars stopped on the tracks and were hit at the crossing at Sutton Boulevard and Greenwood Boulevard. A driver was killed in one of two incidents at a crossing in the Franklin County town of Berger. In two separate incidents, cars were struck by trains on Wacky Road in Wentzville.

Peter Gunther told News 4 that he’d like to see flashing lights and crossing arms added to the crossing on Buchanan Street near his business. “So I believe that would improve the safety of this crossing dramatically,” he said.

Of the railroad crossings in Missouri, 10%, or 634, are in the St. Louis area.