Four passengers and two crew members who were aboard the Amtrak train that crashed into a truck at a railroad crossing in rural Missouri — causing the train to derail and killing four — have filed civil lawsuits against Amtrak, BNSF Railway and the company that owned the truck.
The passengers and crew members say they were “violently thrown” within the train and suffered serious injuries as a result of the crash. The four passengers are from Kansas and the crew members are from Chicago, according to their attorneys.
In a statement on Friday, Jerry Schlichter, one of the lawyers representing passengers and crew, said the crash was “a tragedy that would never have happened if the railroads had acted on warnings they had for years.”
This was a highly dangerous crossing, without flashers, with very steep inclines, loose gravel, and limited visibility, and a train going about 90 miles per hour,” Schlichter said, adding: “We now know that all of this suffering, and the losses, could have been avoided if the railroads had simply acted upon what the local people were telling them over and over was needed to avoid such a tragedy.”
On Monday around 12:45 p.m., the Amtrak passenger train carrying approximately 287 people on the Southwest Chief route, which runs between Los Angeles and Chicago, struck a dump truck that was carrying a load of shot rock to a levee project near rural Mendon, Missouri. Three passengers from the Kansas City metro area were killed along with the truck driver. About 150 injured were taken to 10 hospitals across Missouri.
Federal officials with the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. The train was going nearly 90 mph, the posted speed limit for area rail traffic, leading up to the moment of impact, investigators have said. A more detailed analysis of what occurred is still under way.
In the wake of the disaster, The Star has learned that residents had already long raised concern with the safety of the crossing on Porche Prairie Avenue. There are no gates or lights there to signal oncoming train traffic, brush grows near the tracks there that could obstruct the view for drivers, and the steep gravel road is considered a difficult path for those operating heavy equipment.
Officials with the Missouri Department of Transportation had proposed installation of safety features — including lights and guard rails, a project estimated to cost around $400,000. But that project, caught in bureaucratic limbo, was still possibly years away from being completed at the time of the crash, The Star has found.
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.
BNSF Railway, which owns the tracks, has acknowledged being aware of those complaints but the evaluation process for completing a project there had not been completed.
The lawsuits filed Friday are among the first in an expected wave of cases seeking to hold the railway and Amtrak liable for damages. Several other passengers have already retained lawyers to represent them, including the families of Binh Phan, 82, of Kansas City, a passenger killed in the crash who was traveling for vacation with his family.
The wife of Billy Barton II, the truck driver who was killed, is suing BNSF and MS Contracting, the Missouri-based company her husband worked for.
Meanwhile, Amtrak and BNSF have filed a lawsuit blaming the trucking company for causing the crash. In court papers filed Thursday, lawyers for the companies said the driver passed the crossing in an unsafe manner, saying the company and driver are responsible.