BRANSON, Mo – KOLR 10 Investigates why a state safety inspection last May didn’t raise any red flags on Silver Dollar City’s train ride that later crashed in October, injuring at least seven people.
A state division for amusement rides in Missouri recommended several changes before allowing it to re-open for the park’s 2023 season. The findings suggest issues like misaligned rails and uneven rail ties dated back years or even decades.
Adam Swenka was on the train ride with his wife and their months-old infant when it flipped. He says he was injured in the crash’s aftermath.
“You don’t go to Silver Dollar City or any attraction thinking your life’s in peril,” said Swenka.
Documents from the Missouri Department of public safety and MODOT lay out five key components that caused the train going an estimated 8 or 9 miles per hour at the time to derail.
The state then laid out six recommendations to fix those issues. SDC implemented each recommendation before the train ride resumed operation in March 2023. Most of the suggestions correspond directly to the investigation conclusion, like tightening the bolts and correcting the rail alignment. But the state also recommended the theme park develop safety standards for the track because there are no national standards for the 1940’s German locomotive running on a railroad made in-house at Silver Dollar City in 1962.
“You go in there with your guard down thinking this is going to be a place to hang out and have fun and instead it turns into something unfolding in front of you that could hurt your whole family,” said Swenka. “I would love to know what oversight the state really has. People could have died.”
KOLR 10 Investigates obtained the most recent inspection report for the Frisco Silver Dollar Line.
It shows the ride passed a state inspection with flying colors, meeting standards with “substantial compliance” just months before the accident. Out of 42 line items listed under mechanical, structural, and electrical categories, not one was flagged as “unsatisfactory.”
KOLR 10 Investigates pressed the state to answer why an inspector didn’t catch the train’s safety shortfalls during that visit in May 2022. A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, who declined multiple requests to interview, said the inspection checklists are designed to audit more conventional amusement parks rides like roller coasters or Ferris wheels. A small note at the bottom of the inspection says it’s not intended to be all-inclusive.
In an email, our investigative team asked the state spokesperson if further action is needed to ensure passengers on non-traditional amusement park rides like the train are safe, given the latest inspection did not flag the issues that led to the train ride’s derailment last October.
The spokesperson skirted the question, pointing only to the six recommendations SDC implemented at the state’s request retroactively after the derailment sent seven people to the hospital. The spokesperson adds that, “this case provided insights that will continue to serve the amusement ride safety unit team.”
Brenda Barbo wasn’t on the train when it crashed, but the ride serves as a mode of transportation down memory lane. She says nostalgia will overrule her hesitation to come aboard in wake of the investigation report.
“I loved it because my husband got a big kick when the bear came out of the woods and I screamed,” said Barbo. “It was a good memory and he passed away last year. So yes, I’d get back on that train.”
Others like Swenka aren’t sure memory lane is a road they’re willing to re-visit unless SDC makes a commitment to be honest with passengers onboard the derailed ride.
“That transparency makes me question whether we’ll get on that ride again,” he said. “And it makes me question all the other rides.”
The Swenka family also told our team that despite their experience, they love having an attraction like SDC so close by.
If you have a story you’d like Investigative Reporter Lauren Barnas to look into, send her an email: LBarnas@KOLR10.com.