People in Purdy say deadly railroad crossing needs safety improvements

PURDY, Mo. -- Safety changes that were promised to the town of Purdy are coming too late. A woman was killed, and her grandchildren were hurt, when a train crashed into their car at the railroad crossing on Washington Avenue on February 19, 2020.

Leaders of the Barry County town say they've been trying to get the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad and the Missouri Department of Transportation to make the intersection safer for years. There are no lights and no crossing arms.

"Today, [the train engineer] laid on his horn a mile away and didn't get off of it. [Normally, it's] a couple of toots between intersections," Purdy Citizen and Former Mayor Bo Prock said. "With the quiet dinging of [the warning sounds] and the buildings set up the way they are. It's asking for wrecks."

Prock says people in town have known for years that the railroad crossing in the middle of Purdy is dangerous.

"If we get the page from a vehicle versus train, we almost know it's going to be right here," Prock said.

Not only are there few safety measures in place at the crossing, but it's difficult for drivers to see when a train is coming.

"The intersection is blocked by multiple buildings, then the chain linked fence. So, you pretty much have to be right in the intersection when the train is coming through. It is a blind spot coming in to a train intersection," Purdy Fire Chief Nick Mercer said.

Many people in town say if those safety measures were in place, the tragic accident wouldn't have happened.

"Had we had crossing guards up on this intersection yesterday, the lady that was killed would still be alive. She'd still be with her grand-kids today," Prock said.

City leaders say they've asked for those changes.

"We met about a year ago with MoDot and the Missouri Arkansas Railroad and they talked at that time about putting some lights and warning systems here on Washington Street and crossing gates on C Highway," Purdy Police Chief Jackie Lowe said.

That meeting was after a train hit another car a few years ago, badly injuring a teenager.

"The scars from the last wreck in 2018 that was a severe wreck as well were also still there," Chief Mercer said.

Mercer and Lowe says they thought improvements that were promised would have been done by now.

"They were supposed to do it last June," Chief Lowe said.

"We don't know why they haven't showed up. If there is an issue, it hasn't been communicated with anybody here," Prock said.

Officials with MoDot say they are working with the railroad company to put in warning lights and crossing arms at both intersections, the crossing at Washington Avenue and on C Highway. However, it could still be a year before the changes are actually complete.

MoDot's Administrator for Railroads Troy Hughes tells KY3 News the highway department gave the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad the "go-ahead" to begin planning and engineering for the projects last summer. Hughes says they'll now enter into agreements with the City of Purdy and the railroad to move forward with the projects.

MoDot is in charge of allocating state and federal funds toward railroad crossing improvement projects throughout the state, which average about $300,000 each. MoDot typically does 20 to 25 improvement projects like this each year in Missouri. Hughes says after MoDot identifies the projects, the railroad company is in charge of making the physical changes.

In the meantime, some people in town aren't staying quiet and are urging others to do the same.

"It's a matter of Purdy as a whole coming together and showing some real outrage," Prock said. "Why this crossing, with three accidents in two years, hasn't been taken care of? Now, somebody has died in our community and [it's time for people to] show they're upset about it and get something done."