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Lawsuits Galore Filed in Deadly Amtrak Crash As Locals Say They’ve Been Warning About Risk For Years

Everyone was at fault for the deadly Amtrak crash caused by a collision with a dump truck at a road crossing in Missouri that left four people dead, a series of lawsuits allege. 

Several lawsuits filed by passengers of the train and their families allege the private railroad company that owns the tracks, BNSF, was repeatedly warned that the crossing was dangerous and did nothing about it. Most of those lawsuits also include Amtrak and the dump truck company, MS Contracting, as co-defendants. In turn, Amtrak and BNSF have sued MS Contracting for negligence in crossing the railroad track in a dangerous manner.

The basic facts of the crash are not in dispute. An Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago was traveling at 87 mph when it hit a dump truck that was attempting to cross the tracks at a crossing in Mendon, Missouri. Four people died, including the truck driver, and 150 people were treated at area hospitals for injuries from the crash. 

What is very much in dispute is who was responsible for the crash, and it appears there is plenty of blame to go around. For one, residents who routinely used the crossing had been complaining to BNSF “for years,” according to the Kansas City Star, warning them that the crossing was dangerous. The tracks and road intersect at an angle, making it harder for drivers to look over their shoulders down the tracks to spot a train moving so quickly. The crossing has no alert system for when a train is coming, just a sign saying there are railroad tracks. And the tracks are on an elevated railbed, with overgrown brush blocking the views of cars and trucks waiting to cross. 

A local farmer had been working with the relevant authorities for years trying to make the crossing safer, issuing yet another warning just two weeks before the crash. “Whenever you cross here with a combine you have to actually put your steering wheel all the way forward and stand up out of the seat as you are trying to climb that approach and cross and look down the track both ways,” Mike Spencer told the local Fox affiliate.

Do you know of a dangerous railroad crossing in your area? Let us know. Send an email to Aaron.Gordon@vice.com

As the Star reported, BNSF is legally responsible, as the track owner, to trim the brush and clear sight lines. According to several of the lawsuits, the Missouri Department of Transportation recommended BNSF upgrade the intersection to include gates and warning lights when a train was approaching but did not do so. BNSF workers have been sounding the alarm for years that drastic cuts in staffing, maintenance, and safety checks are courting disaster.

For their part, Amtrak and BNSF say MS Contracting failed to properly train the driver to use the dump truck and to exercise caution at the railroad crossing which caused the crash. The lawsuit alleges the driver saw the train but still tried to cross.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, but it typically takes months for the agency to issue a preliminary report.

BNSF and Amtrak declined to comment on pending litigation.

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