State, federal inspectors review Purdy railroad crossing

Thursday, March 5, 2020
A memorial has been set up on the railroad crossing standard at Washington Street where Fransisca Perez Salas was killed in a crash with a train on Feb. 19. Railroad officials were on scene Wednesday measuring and assessing the crossing. Murray Bishoff/Cassville Democrat

MoDOT money available for crossing upgrade since July 1

Activity picked up in Purdy on Wednesday as federal and state transportation officials and representatives of the Arkansas Missouri Railroad gathered to assess the Washington Street crossing where Fransisca Perez Salas was killed in a crash with a train on Feb. 19.

A representative wearing a Federal Railroad Administration jacket, a Missouri Department of Transportation truck and approximately eight people from the Arkansas Missouri Railroad were in Purdy on Wednesday taking measurements at both the Washington Street crossing, back to Business Highway 37, and at the Highway C railroad crossing.

In a second extraordinary instance, a southbound train came to a near stop at the Washington Street crossing around 1 p.m. Fire Chief Nick Mercer witnessed a person appearing to be a railroad employee get off the train, walk to the crossing and physically stand in the intersection, sizing up the sight. As the train picked up speed, the subject climbed back on board the locomotive.

Mercer said he has never witnessed a train stop there before or undergo such an inspection on a typical train run.

A memorial has now been set up on the railroad standard facing west, where Perez Salas, 59, was crossing with her two grandchildren, ages 3 and 8, when her car drove into the path of a southbound train. She was killed and both children were injured.

The crash took place at 4:22 p.m., an unusually late hour of the day for a train run through Purdy, according to city staff. Mercer has called the site a blind crossing for eastbound traffic, citing buildings that block a view of the tracks and possibly shield the sound of an oncoming train.

According to Troy Hughes, design liaison engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation’s multimodal division in Jefferson City, inspectors for MoDOT were on scene following the fatal crash. He had not been appraised about the Wednesday inspection when contacted by The Times. He said MoDOT conducts a safety inspection of all accidents involving a train fatality in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration.

Hughes said MoDOT had programmed an upgrade to both the Washington Street and Highway C railroad crossings for MoDOT’s 2019-2020 fiscal year. That meant state money has been available since July 1, 2019. The upgrade involves adding both crossing arms and flashing lights.

Hughes expected the next step in completing the upgrade would take the shape of an agreement between the railroad and the city, detailing the project, that both parties would have to approve. To date, the Purdy City Council has had no such document to act upon.

Once there is an agreement, Hughes said MoDOT will issue an administrative order that would obligate state and federal funds for the project. MoDOT would typically give the railroad one year to finish the work. Hughes explained the railroad would have to order materials and hire a contractor. He did not think the railroad would have the needed supplies “on the shelf” for immediate action.

Several efforts have been slated to help the family of Perez Salas.

Adelita’s Mexican Restaurant, at 201 Business Highway 37 in Purdy, has announced that proceeds from sales throughout Saturday, would be donated to the family. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A garage sale to benefit the family will be held at The Gathering Place, Highway C and Business Highway 37, from March 12-14.

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