MENDON, Mo. — The U.S Department of Transportation Thursday announced $576 million in federal funding to eliminate dangerous railroad crossings.
Mendon farmer Mike Spencer only wishes there was so much interest a week ago.
As legal maneuverings begin in the fatal Amtrak Missouri crash. Spencer said there’s no shortage of blame.
“This poor truck driver he possibly made a mistake I can’t say he didn’t make a mistake but that railroad track is so unsafe it did not leave him one place for error,” Spencer said of the crash between Billy Barton’s dump truck and an Amtrak train loaded with 275 passengers and crew heading 87 miles per hour from L.A. to Chicago.
But he never wanted to blame himself if something happened, so Spencer says he warned the railroad, the county, and the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Railroad Safety team about issues at that crossing.
“That’s the reason I just kept pushing pushing because I thought if something happens to one of my close friends or family, I’ll never forgive myself,” he said.
A lawsuit filed on behalf of Barton’s widow mentions most of the concerns Spencer had, the acute angle of the intersection and the steep approach. It says American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials standards are for the track not to be elevated more than six inches above the road for the first 30 feet outside the train tracks.
“I was not aware of the 30 feet deal. All I knew is that common sense tells me whenever I’m putting my life in jeopardy to cross that with farm equipment, or even a pickup truck, that it’s not a safe crossing and its up to someone to fix it,” Spencer said.
The question remains: Who will fix it? MoDOT put it on a list of future projects earlier this year to include a crossing arm and signal. As $573 million in new federal funding was announced Thursday, MoDOT confirmed it didn’t receive any of $368 million in federal funding awarded earlier this month because it didn’t apply.
“There was no future plans to fix this crossing after we thought we had the ball rolling on it. I told him, ‘You aren’t going to hear the end of this, you aren’t going to see the last of me, because I’m not giving up on this,'” Spencer says he told MoDOT earlier this year.
Spencer is happy the NTSB drove the path he takes daily managing farm on either side of the track.
While raising the road to meet the rail would take months if funded, Spencer told NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy there’s steps that could be taken immediately.
“They can go down through there with that mower in a matter of hours take that brush down to almost nothing, and we can at least see the trains like we did before,” he said.
MoDOT didn’t say whether it plans to apply for that new batch of federal funding that’s going to be tripling to more than $1 billion next year as part of the infrastructure bill. The agency’s communications director points out it did receive funding in the two previous rounds before the last one.
FRA and USDOT said at least 20% of funds will be reserved to improve or eliminate rural and tribal crossings.