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MoDOT hosts public meeting on improvements to Mendon rail crossings

An image of a railroad crossing under blue skies.
Janne Simoes
The Missouri Department of Transportation is seeking feedback on how to make rail crossings safer.

MENDON − The Missouri Department of Transportation hosted a public meeting Thursday in Mendon, the site of a deadly passenger train derailment which garnered national attention, to get feedback on a statewide push to improve rail safety in Missouri.

"This is a very collaborative process," said Eric Schroeter, MoDOT's assistant chief engineer. "So tonight's part of that, talking to the public to get that input."

In August, Missouri allocated $50 million to improve rail crossings in the wake of the Mendon derailment. The money will go toward improving passive crossings that don't have safety lights and arms, which can be a safety hazard for both vehicles and trains.

There are 1,400 such crossings in Missouri according to Schroeter. The Porch Prairie Avenue crossing, where the derailment happened, is one of them.

Despite the spending bump, it's not enough to upgrade every passive crossing in Missouri. Just putting in lights and gates can cost between $400,000 to $500,000, according to Schroeder.

That price tag can go up if there are other improvements, such as reducing the incline of a crossing.

"You know, we're talking hundreds of millions of dollars," Schroeter said. "And we don't have hundreds of millions of dollars."

MoDOT proposes improving four railroad crossings in western Chariton County between Mendon and Snyder. The proposals come from a study put together by a private consulting firm, Crawford, Murphy and Tilly (CMT). It studied the railroad line in northwest Missouri which serves the Southwest Chief Amtrak line.

It was a Southwest Chief train that struck a dump track at the passive rail crossing at Porche Prairie Avenue, southwest of Mendon.

Although Amtrak uses the line, it is owned by BNSF, one of the largest freight railroad companies in the country.

Before any changes happen, MoDOT needs to develop a joint resolution with BNSF and Chariton County, which maintains the roads at the crossings.

MoDOT normally receives about $6 million a year for rail crossing improvements, Schroeter said. He estimates it will cost around $6.5 million for the proposed improvements in western Chariton County.

However, not every rail crossing will be improved. MoDOT wants to close four crossings between Mendon and Snyder, including Porche Prairie Avenue.

Some residents who attended the meeting said those closures could increase traffic. Travis Fry owns farmland near the rail crossing at Newhall Road, just northeast of Porche Prairie Avenue.

Fry said he would also like to see improvements, including crossing gates, at Porche Prairie Road. Fry said if the Porche Prairie crossing is closed, it could lead to traffic backups at the Newhall Road crossing.

MoDOT says it is taking residents' concerns into account. Staff from MoDOT and CMT were at the meeting and spoke with residents. It also offered comment cards for people to fill out.

Changes aren't just coming for Mendon. Studies were conducted along other rail lines used by Amtrak, including the Missouri River Runner, which connects St. Louis and Kansas City. The line also stops in Jefferson City.

MoDOT says residents can call its customer service line at 888-275-6636 to give feedback on the plans.

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