Amtrak and BNSF Railway have filed a federal lawsuit claiming a Missouri company’s negligence led to a train crash and derailment Monday that killed four people, including the company’s dump truck driver.
The Southwest Chief train, headed from Los Angeles to Chicago with 275 passengers and 12 crew members, plowed into the back of a dump truck near the town of Mendon, Mo., northwest of Columbia, at a railway crossing that wasn’t marked by electronic signals or crossing arms.
Amtrak and BNSF’s lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, names MS Contracting as the defendant.
The dump truck driver, 53-year-old Billy Barton II, was delivering rocks “for and on behalf of MS Contracting” in a truck owned by the company on the day of the crash, according to the lawsuit.
He tried to cross the railroad intersection “despite the fact that it was unsafe, careless and reckless to do so because of the clearly visible approaching Amtrak train,” court documents stated.
The lawsuit claims the crash and subsequent derailment cost BNSF and Amtrak, which operates its trains on rail owned by the freight company, “damages well in excess of $75,000″ each.
“MS Contracting negligently, carelessly, and recklessly operated the dump truck, causing the collision with and derailment of Amtrak Train 4,” according to the lawsuit.
Among its claims, the lawsuit alleges MS Contracting and its agents, officers and employees failed to property maintain, inspect or repair the 2007 Kenworth dump truck involved in the crash.
Amtrak and BNSF also claim MS Contracting “failed to properly train and supervise its employees, including Bill Barton,” according to court documents.
“At all relevant times to this complaint, the actions of Barton were: (1) within the course and scope of his employment with MS Contracting; (2) with MS Contracting’s authority, consent, and knowledge; and (3) for MS Contracting’s benefit and under its direction and control,” according to the lawsuit.
MS Contracting’s alleged lack of policies and procedures for operating its vehicles at railroad crossings caused the collision and derailment, the lawsuit said.
Michael E. Sattman, the registered agent for MS Contracting, declined to comment Thursday and told The Times to address questions to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash.
When asked whether he had attorneys, Sattman said, “They won’t comment either.” He then hung up the phone.
The collision was not likely related to mechanical or track issues, officials said.
In addition to Barton, three train passengers were killed in the crash. More than 150 people were injured.
Jeff Goodman, a mass transit lawyer who has represented passengers and their families in disasters, said the companies involved are “already pointing the finger at each other, instead of focusing on what safety improvements need to be made.”
The companies’ actions indicate “a lack of priority given to safety” at Amtrak and BNSF, Goodman said.
“Instead of devoting their resources to gamesmanship and litigation tactics, Amtrak and BNSF should be focused on preventing another disaster,” he said.
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.
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