Crews are back at work with heavy machinery west of Fonda, rebuilding the half-mile section of Route 5 damaged by a train derailment more than three months ago.
A crew from Rifenburg Construction began setting up flags and making cuts for culverts Wednesday and will narrow the road to single-lane traffic this morning as excavators tear up chunks of pavement, according to state Department of Transportation spokesman Jim Piccola.
The project comes roughly a month after Rifenburg applied a temporary patch to open the road for school buses, and three months since the accident that sent freight cars careening onto the highway.
On the morning of June 27, an eastbound CSX freight train blew through a red light and collided with another CSX train, sending four locomotives and 45 freight cars jackknifing into the ditch and scattering debris across Route 5.
The rails were open days later, but Route 5 between Hickory Hill and Reservoir roads remained closed for two months, clogged with heavy machinery removing the ruined rail cars.
The road was patched and opened a few days before the start of school, but Piccola said the full 3,100-foot rebuild begun Wednesday is a necessity.
“The patch looks good now,” he said, “but put it through a winter of freezing and thawing, and you’ll start to see some issues.”
The road, he said, wasn’t actually damaged badly by the train wreck. The heavy machinery used to clear the wreckage, however, crushed the concrete foundation below the tar. That foundation, given a winter to move around, would render the road unstable, he said. The problem is, those damaging winter frosts are getting close.
Rifenburg contracted with CSX to remove the damaged road down to the dirt, then lay a solid foundation, a bonding layer and a smooth asphalt surface, all by the end of November. Piccola said that could be too late.
“We don’t like to lay top layers much past the end of October,” he said.
Cooler temperatures tend to slow the bonding between a road’s foundation and the asphalt surface. If the project is stalled, Piccola said Rifenburg may have to leave the foundation and bonding layer for the winter.
“Cars can drive on that,” Piccola said. “It’s totally acceptable. [Rifenburg] would just have to come back next summer.”
At the work site Wednesday afternoon, Rifenburg foreman Matt Scott said his crew doesn’t plan on leaving the job half-done for the winter.
“We’re not coming back next year,” he said. “We fully intend to get this done now.”
He and his crew will tear up 200 to 300 feet of road per day, rebuilding one side in the morning then the other side in the afternoon, working from east to west.
“That’s about what we can do in a day,” he said.
By his estimates, if all goes as planned, the road could be done in two weeks.
“But don’t hold me to that,” he said.
Flaggers will be stationed on either end of Route 5, along with the intersection of Martin Road. The road will be cleared for two-way traffic before and after the workday.
Officials from CSX did not return calls for comment on how much the road repairs will cost the railroad.