The federal government is directing more than $500,000 toward safety improvements at two deadly railway crossings in the village of Fonda, lawmakers announced Wednesday.
It was unclear late Wednesday precisely what work will be done at the crossings, one situated on Center Street and the other on Broadway, but the work is part of preparations for high-speed trains to be rushing through the village.
The money, which was awarded by the federal Department of Transportation and will be administered by the Federal Railroad Administration, is part of the DOT’s Railway-Highway Crossing Hazard Elimination in High-Speed Rail Corridors program.
“This is a great investment for the village of Fonda,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a news release issued jointly by her office and the office of Sen. Charles E. Schumer.
“These federal dollars will help keep pedestrians safe, while helping to support local economic development and job creation,” Gillibrand said in the release.
The rail crossings in Fonda — both of which were the scene of fatalities in the past six years — have been the topic of discussion and debate in the village in the past.
Some have called for the crossings to be shut down altogether, while others fear doing so would inhibit emergency responder traffic while complicating already-congested traffic flow.
Village Public Works Superintendent John Wiltey said he’s unsure exactly what the grant funding is for, but he is opposed to closing down the crossings for safety reasons.
Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Dwight Schwabrow on Wednesday said he’s not familiar with the village’s grant, but the crossings are a topic of concern whether they’re shut down or they remain open. “I am concerned about high-speed rail coming through these communities that are in very close proximity to these tracks,” he said.
He said closing them down would likely improve safety for pedestrians and motorists who cross them. But restricting access over the tracks at these intersections also sets up impediments to fire trucks and ambulances, he said.
“What the alternatives are, I really don’t know,” Schwabrow said.
The Center Street crossing proved deadly for Fonda resident Mildred Vunk, 88, who was killed by an Amtrak passenger train while walking across the tracks in May 2007.
Roughly two years earlier, Johnstown resident Victoria Doyle, 38, was killed when driving over the tracks at the Broadway crossing to the west.
An investigation into Doyle’s death revealed a railway employee deactivated the safety mechanism that engages the lights and gates that are supposed to prevent motorists from crossing the tracks into the path of an oncoming train.
The grant to Fonda is part of $16.2 million in Federal Highway Administration money going toward a transportation project in New York. The biggest chunk of money, about $3.8 million, will go toward improving bridges on Interstate 787 in Albany.
Scenic byways and a bike path are also getting money: The Route 20 Scenic Byway near Cooperstown is getting $190,000 in improvement funds. And $38,000 will go to install signs along the Mohawk Towpath Byway, which follows the route of the Erie Canal between Schenectady and Waterford.