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Investigators probe why a dump truck crossed into the path of an Amtrak train

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today investigators will be back at the scene of the Amtrak train crash that happened Monday in Missouri, trying to figure out why a dump truck crossed into the path of that train. The collision killed four people, including the truck driver. At least 150 other people were injured. NPR's David Schaper has more.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The Porsche-Prairie Avenue railroad crossing outside of tiny Mendon, Mo., is a dangerous one, according to local residents, including Mike Spencer, who farms the land there on both sides of the tracks. In fact, two weeks ago, he posted a video about the crossing on Facebook.

(SOUNDBITE OF FACEBOOK VIDEO)

MIKE SPENCER: We've got a train coming right here at this crossing.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN HORN)

SPENCER: You should see this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN CROSSING)

SCHAPER: Well, that was a BNSF freight train speeding through this passive crossing. National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy explains what that means.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENNIFER HOMENDY: What makes this a passive crossing is there was a stop sign and cross bucks. There were no arms. There were no warning lights. There were no bells.

SCHAPER: When the train hit the dump truck, passengers were violently flung about the train's compartments as the rail cars ended up on their sides. Two troops of teenage Boy Scouts on their way home to Wisconsin from a camp in New Mexico provided first aid to several of the injured, including the dying driver of the dump truck. Farmer Mike Spencer told the Kansas City Star that he and his neighbors have been complaining about the dangerous crossing to the railroad and to the state for years.

SPENCER: There's no reason for this to have - I mean, my heart goes out to the families. It's just a tragedy. And I don't feel like it should have happened.

SCHAPER: Missouri's Department of Transportation confirms the crossing was on a list to receive safety upgrades, but BNSF says that the state has not taken the first step of contacting the railroad yet to do a diagnostic review of the crossing. Chair Homendy says the NTSB has been recommending for years that passive grade crossings like this one be eliminated or made safer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOMENDY: And it's very frustrating for our investigators - very frustrating - when they are on scene and they know what would have prevented this.

SCHAPER: Homendy says there are 130,000 similar passive railroad crossings nationwide, and grade crossing collisions killed 236 people last year.

David Schaper, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROSPECT LUX'S "KELMPT LON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.