Missouri fatal train crash sparks lawsuits against Amtrak, BNSF

Prior to the Amtrak crash, Missouri residents had been pushing for nearly three years to fix the crossing

Days after the deadly Amtrak train collision in rural Missouri, which left four killed and 150 injured, two lawsuits have been filed against Amtrak, BNSF Railway Co., and MS Contracting LLC. 

The first lawsuits have been filed only days after an Amtrak train collision and derailment in rural Missouri that left four people dead and injured up to 150 others.

Four passengers and two crew members who were on the Amtrak train filed civil lawsuits against Amtrak, BNSF Railway Co., and the truck company, MS Contracting LLC. While, Amtrak and BNSF Railway have filed a federal lawsuit claiming a Missouri truck company’s negligence led to the deadly crash. 

In the first lawsuit, surviving passenger Janet Williams of Dubuque, Iowa, alleges the negligent design of the railroad crossing near the town of Mendon, and says the train was packed with too many riders, creating "cattle car conditions."

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 lawsuit said the train was "clearly visible" and that the truck driver was careless in crossing the tracks.


According to the lawsuit, 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.

The lawsuit alleges the crash and derailment cost BNSF and Amtrak, "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," the lawsuit states.

The crossing is in a rural area about 84 miles northeast of Kansas City, has no lights or other signals to warn of an approaching train. Farmers had previously expressed concerns about the safety of the crossing, described by locals and a federal transportation safety official as very steep. 

The Missouri county said that residents and county leaders have been pushing for a safety upgrade at the railroad crossing for nearly three years.

In an email to The Associated Press, Chariton County Presiding Commissioner Evan Emmerich said that resident Mike Spencer first brought up his concern about the dangerous crossing in a December 2019 commission meeting. 

Spencer was told to reach out to the Missouri Department of Transportation's Railroad Safety division. A week later, the state agency told residents that, "it is on their plans to repair." 

Emmerich continued, "to express our concerns with the visibility issue" at the crossing by contacting the Railroad Safety division as well as with BNSF Railway Co., which owns the track. 

In January, the Missouri Department of Transportation submitted its "State Freight & Rail Plan" plan. The plan includes installing lights and gates at the crossing.


Two train passengers — Rochelle Cook, 58, and Kim Holsapple, 56, both of DeSoto, Kansas — died at the scene. A third passenger, 82-year-old Binh Phan, of Kansas City, Missouri, died Tuesday at a hospital. 

Williams’ lawsuit said she "sustained significant and life-altering injuries" when she was suddenly thrown from her seat, struck by luggage and crushed by other passengers as her train car flipped onto its side. One of her attorneys, Robert J. Mongeluzzi, said in a statement that Amtrak and BNSF "failed to use basic railroad crossing safety devices such as warning lights and crossing gates."

A BNSF spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation. A message left with Amtrak wasn’t immediately returned.

The Amtrak Southwest Chief train was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago and was carrying 275 passengers and 12 crew members when it derailed around 12:42 p.m. local time in rural Missouri, according to the company. The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that the train was going about 87 mph, under the 90 mph speed limit, when the collision occurred. 


The truck driver, Billy Barton II, 54, of Brookfield, died in the collision, along with three passengers on the train. His widow, Erin Barton, on Thursday filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in state court against Chariton County and a BNSF official who cited the crossing as unsafe.

People have been injured or killed in at least seven other accidents involving Amtrak trains since 2015.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.