MENDON, Mo. — About two weeks ago, a farmer in northern Missouri posted a video on Facebook about the railroad crossing where a train derailed Monday, killing three and injuring dozens.
That footage, which Mike Spencer posted on June 11, showed a train moving down the BNSF Railway tracks on Porche Prairie Avenue, southwest of Mendon in Chariton County.
“We have to cross this with farm equipment to get to several of our fields,” Spencer, 64, wrote. “We have been on the RR for several years about fixing the approach by building the road up, putting in signals, signal lights or just cutting the brush back.”
On Monday evening, just hours after an Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago struck a dump truck and derailed, the farmer told The Star that the “tragedy” could have been prevented.
“They knew it was unsafe,” Spencer said. “That was pretty much a no-brainer … I predicted this was going to happen. I was certain that this was going to happen. It was just a matter of time.
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“They never even offered to cut brush back for us so we could at least see.”
Another local farmer, Daryl Jacobs, who has lived in the area his whole life, called the crossing “very dangerous.”
“It needs arms on it or signals,” Jacobs, 62, said. “It’s so dang steep. I heard that truck just stalled out today going up it. That’s what I heard.
“And this dang brush along these railroad tracks all needs to be cleared back.”
Jacobs’ daughter-in-law, Shannon, was sitting on the porch of a nearby home and saw the train hit the truck. She called 911.
There are approximately 3,800 public highway-rail crossings in Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Office of Multimodal Operations, which oversees rail services in the state.
Each year from 2017 to 2021, MoDOT has improved the safety features at about 20 of those crossings. The Mendon crossing is on the list of proposed improvements.
Nearly half of public train crossings in Missouri are not equipped with active warning devices such as bells, flashing lights and gates, according to a MoDOT report.
“Only the crossings with extreme amounts of train and vehicle traffic or other sight distance problems will receive lights/gates because the need is great,” the agency wrote on its website.
MoDOT did not provide comment after being contacted by The Star.
Spencer said the rise from where the road is flat to the top of the tracks is about 9 feet.
“Our concern was that the approach on it is very, very steep,” he said.
“You can’t see over it. We have to cross over it with farm equipment, loaded grain trucks. We have no choice but to cross that track. It’s very treacherous.”
He estimates trains come through at up to 90 miles per hour. There are no signals. No cross arms to stop motorists. They want the grade to the top of the track lessened.
“There’s no way you can pull up there and stop and go on.”
The video Spencer posted earlier this month shows a train “only moving at approximately 45-50 but some come through at anywhere from 70-90 mph,” he wrote.
“If you cross here with a vehicle, stop, approach very slowly, then look both ways. There are two tracks and around 85 trains go through there every day.”
His wife Sheryl commented soon after he posted the video.
“They are waiting till someone gets hit,” she wrote.
For the past three years, Spencer and others in the community have been in discussions with BNSF, a safety engineer from the Missouri Department of Transportation, a county commissioner and a railroad engineer with the goal of improving safety at the crossing.
Authorities agreed to do something, said Spencer, whose farmland surrounds the crossing. But it hasn’t happened.
“This is on the railroad’s shoulders. This is on the railroad’s shoulders,” Spencer said. “They have known this is a problem. … They were concerned, but not concerned enough to do anything.
“I mean my heart goes out to the families who are involved here, whether they have loved ones injured, dead or whatever. It’s just a tragedy. And I don’t feel like it should have happened.”
BSNF Railway’s parent company is a wholly owned subsidiary of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
The Star’s Natalie Wallington contributed to this report.
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Updated at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.