Fourth person dies after Amtrak derailment in Missouri; NTSB focuses on railroad crossing: What we know

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A fourth person has died after an Amtrak train crashed into a dump truck and derailed Monday afternoon in rural Missouri, injuring 150 people, authorities said Tuesday.

Three of those killed were train passengers, and one died at a hospital, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said in a statement Tuesday. Amtrak said the driver of the dump truck also died.

The crash happened at 12:42 p.m. in Mendon, about 84 miles northeast of Kansas City. Amtrak said about 275 passengers and 12 crew members were aboard a train en route to Chicago from Los Angeles.

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Law enforcement and Amtrak officials took 150 people to 10 hospitals on Monday with injuries ranging from minor to serious, according to the highway patrol.

Federal investigators are especially concerned with the railroad crossing where the crash occurred, Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Tuesday.

The location was a "passive crossing" – one marked by signage, but no moving guards – a common type of railroad crossing that has long concerned the NTSB, Homendy said.

The speed limit for trains along that stretch of track was 90 mph, but "there were no arms. There were no warning lights. There were no bells," at the crossing, Homendy said.

Here’s what we know:

How did the train derail?

The crash and derailment happened on a gravel road in Chariton County, southwest of Mendon, at an "uncontrolled intersection" with no traffic lights or electronic controls, said Lt. Eric Brown of the highway patrol on Monday.

Mike Spencer, a farmer working near the crash site, said the dump truck driver was hauling rock for a project on a local creek's levy. The crossing is known to locals as dangerous, particularly for people driving slow farm equipment, he said.

NTSB investigating the crash

The NTSB has sent a team of 16, including Homendy, to investigate the crash. Trains won’t be able to use the track for “a matter of days” as investigators gather evidence, Homendy had previously said.

Homendy said the crossing where the crash happened was included in a list that authorities wanted to upgrade. Doing so would have cost about $400,000 and would have likely required cooperation between the county, state and railway owner, Homendy said.

Such crossings are a known hazard, Kristofer Riddle, partner at Chicago-based law firm Clifford Law Offices, told USA TODAY.

“It's particularly dangerous when we're talking about uncontrolled grade crossings," said Riddle. "When you combine that with high-speed passenger rail, the consequences are always going to be tragic."

The firm represents more than 40 passengers of an Amtrak train that derailed in Montana in September and won $16.75 million for their clients involved in 2017’s Amtrak derailment outside DuPont, Washington.

Passengers recount moment of crash

Crash responders found train cars were tossed on their sides and passengers were left scrambling to find an exit.

"All of a sudden, the car that we were on was over, and everyone was flying everywhere, seats were coming apart, bags were going everywhere,” Jason Drinkard, who boarded the train at Kansas City's Union Station, told KMBC News.

Rob Nightingale was falling asleep in his compartment when he was shaken awake as the train car tipped, pushing his window into the ground, he told The Associated Press. Nightingale, who was uninjured, and other passengers climbed out of the toppled car and through another window to safety.

The wreckage “was all over the tracks,” Nightingale said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Amtrak derailment in Missouri: Death toll rises to 4; NTSB on scene

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