Route 5 will remain closed for the near future at the site of last week’s train wreck, but it can be opened for emergency traffic in very short order.
In the event of an emergency, railway owner CSX would need 15 minutes’ notice to clear a path through the wreckage that remains of Thursday’s derailment, which sent two freight trains tumbling and dumped a rail car on Route 5.
Officials aren’t guessing when the roughly 11-mile stretch of highway between Fonda and Palatine Bridge will reopen, and a state DOT spokesman said it’s still unclear how badly damaged the road is.
Repairs to the train tracks were finished Saturday and CSX trains are again rumbling through town. It’s the area alongside the tracks that’s the problem. CSX apparently needs to use the road for that part of the cleanup.
A worker at the site Tuesday was using a piece of heavy equipment to methodically pick up chunks of metal off the road, one by one.
The agreement to provide access in an emergency is important in Montgomery County because the other east-west artery, Route 5S, is regularly shut down because of flooding. It happened last week when Fort Plain was being inundated and again Monday, when heavy rainfall temporarily shut down about 20 roads.
Monday’s rainfall and road closures worry Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Adam Schwabrow.
“It actually shut down 5S, so we had no eastbound, westbound … between Palatine, Fonda, Canajoharie and Fultonville,” he said. “If we’ve got to evacuate people, how do we get them out of there if 5S is flooded?”
The concern brought Schwabrow down to the crash site, where he said a foreman broke the bad news.
“They’re having a problem getting the engine out of the ditch because it’s so impacted into the side of the ground,” Schwabrow said Tuesday. He said those he spoke with were expecting to bring in a crane and the weather itself is hindering progress.
He said DOT engineers are not concerned about the state roadway washing out.
Currently, Route 5S is down to one lane, ironically, because of flooding nearly two years ago. Tropical storms Irene and Lee damaged the highway bridge over the Schoharie Creek in 2011, forcing the state to move traffic to the old train trestle, built in 1909.
Now, the former railway bridge is undergoing rehabilitation, so highway traffic is back on the former 5S bridge, which is reduced to one lane to keep the load on it light.
Route 5, which remains closed, handles 3,673 cars on average day, and 5S carries 3,652, according to the DOT website’s traffic counts.
CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan would only say the train crash is under investigation and the company is cleaning up the mess.
“The focus now is on clearing the material and equipment affected by the derailment and on working with state and county officials on the restoration and reopening of state Route 5,” he said in an email.
He said the company is in close communication with officials in case the road has to be re-opened in a hurry.
“CSX expresses its appreciation to the emergency and other state and local officials for their efforts in responding to the derailment and for their continued cooperation,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said a total of 45 freight cars and four locomotives derailed Thursday. One train, headed from Avon, Ind., to Selkirk in Albany County, consisted of 126 freight cars pulled by four locomotives. The other train, which was headed west from Selkirk to New Castle, Pa., had 83 freight cars drawn by two locomotives, according to Sullivan.
DOT spokesman Jim Piccola said the situation is in the hands of CSX at this point.
“Basically, right now it’s their operation.”
Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Michael England would only confirm the incident is under investigation.