Fonda-Fultonville Central School District Transportation Director Jim Lathers is a happy man.
He recently got word that a section of Route 5 that’s been closed since two CSX trains derailed two months ago will be open in time for the beginning of school.
“This really makes our lives easier,” he said.
According to state Department of Transportation spokesman Jim Piccola, Route 5 between Hickory Hill and Reservoir Road will be open to traffic at the close of business on Tuesday.
It’s just a temporary fix, designed to keep school buses on route. Starting this morning, CSX contractors will do a basic resurfacing and striping, then install some guardrails.
Piccola said more than half a mile of road will have to be rebuilt later this season. Even so, Tuesday will be a major milestone for the long-running project.
Early morning on June 27, east and westbound trains met on the rails.
The results of an investigation into the causes of the incident have yet to be released, but certain facts are clear. Four locomotives and 45 freight cars jackknifed into the ditch that morning and sent debris across Route 5.
The rails were open days later, but Route 5 has been closed ever since, clogged with heavy CSX machinery moving their ruined cars.
Piccola said the road was damaged more by that cleanup equipment than by the original crash.
Engineers from DOT ruled that 3,100 feet of Route 5 and its intersection with Martin Road will have to be rebuilt.
A contractor was recently brought on, but Piccola said both CSX and DOT officials opted for a temporary fix in time for school. CSX spokesman Robert T. Sullivan said in an email Thursday that Rifenburg Construction was hired to do the road work.
“Once it’s done we can sit back and plan a schedule for the major work,” he said. “We might bring it back down to one lane at some point, but we really don’t know.”
According to Lathers, the opening is just in time. He watched the road all summer, and was starting to wonder about his bus routes. School starts on Thursday.
“I was getting ready to call the kids on that stretch to discuss the alternate plan,” he said.
That alternate plan was to send a special short bus to pick up the two kids inside the road closures.
“It’s local traffic only,” he said, “but you have to get the kids to school somehow.”
Three other Fonda-Fultonville bus routes would have been diverted around Hickory Hill Road as well, burning extra gas and time.
“We could have handled it,” he said. “It’s much better that we don’t have to.”
Fonda Mayor Bill Peeler wasn’t as grateful as Lathers.
“This took way too long,” Peeler said.
The derailment and subsequent road closure took place roughly two miles outside the village limits, but he said Route 5 is a major artery into Fonda.
“A few days after the crash, trains were going past,” he said. “It’s two months later and they’re just getting around to us. CSX was taken care of first and they caused the whole thing.”
For weeks the main detour diverted east and westbound traffic around the village. Peeler said that hurt business. The long delay, he said, reinforces village residents’ low opinion of CSX.
DOT recently ruled in favor of one complete and another partial rail crossing closure in the village. Safety officials from CSX originally requested those closures.
“I don’t think they understand,” Peeler said. “Our mobility is as important to us as their rails are to them.”