The state of Kansas has a long history with the railroad industry, from Abilene serving as the northern hub of the Chisholm Trail to the many freight companies named for Kansas cities. But after the recent fatal train derailment in central Missouri, Kansas officials are concerned about railroad crossing safety risks (Half of Kansas rail crossings lack signals — some say that’s just the start of the safety problems).
According to data from the Kansas Department of Transportation, less than half of 5,039 railroad crossings in Kansas feature active warning devices, such as flashing lights or automatic gates. Notably, active warning devices provide drivers with at least twenty seconds of warning before a train enters a railroad crossing.
The Missouri derailment, an Amtrak train collision with a dump truck that killed four people, occurred despite attempts by residents and local officials to notify the state that the crossing was dangerous, raising railroad crossing safety concerns throughout the region. “It is just a matter of luck that happened in Missouri and not in Kansas,” said Chad Henton, assistant legislative director for the local Kansas chapter of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.
The Federal Railway Administration has determined that over 60% of the crashes in Kansas since 2020 have happened at railroad crossings with no gates. So the answer seems simple, right? Just install more gates. The issue is that, like all states, Kansas only receives a certain amount of federal funding every year for railroad crossing safety, currently around $6.5 million.
Unfortunately, any additional costs would need to be paid by the railroads themselves, who despite billions of dollars in revenues, refuse to improve railroad safety without government handouts. “Public safety and safety of the railroad crews come secondly to them to their profits,” Henton said.