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Sandusky leaders say cooperation from Norfolk Southern improved after East Palestine train derailment

Four months after its own train derailment there, Sandusky reopens one lane of traffic on popular road
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Posted at 5:42 PM, Feb 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-16 18:38:13-05

SANDUSKY, Ohio — For the first time in months, cars are finally passing through the Columbus Avenue underpass in Sandusky.

At around 2 p.m. Thursday, crews officially reopened the northbound lane of Columbus Avenue in Sandusky.

The northbound lane of the Columbus Avenue underpass has reopened with a 15 mph speed limit.

Back in October, a Norfolk Southern train carrying paraffin wax derailed and crashed onto a stretch of the popular roadway.

"When it’s closed, it causes a lot of congestion at other intersections throughout the city," City Commissioner Steve Poggiali said.

Aaron Klein, the city's Public Works Director, told News 5 the railroad was repaired and back up and running within a few days, but the underpass below remained closed for months.

"This is probably the main route into Downtown Sandusky," Klein said. "For the past three months, we would get a crew here, a crew there, and they would be doing some work, but it wouldn't be very active."

By mid-January, city leaders let out their frustrations over Norfolk Southern’s lack of communication at their commission meeting after days of waiting for answers became weeks — and then months.

"I don't think the railroad's a real good partner," Commissioner Dave Waddington said at the time.

"I think we're to a point where we just need to move forward with expediting this as quickly as possible so we can get that road open," Klein said to commissioners in January.

Earlier this week, News 5 asked Norfolk Southern why the underpass had not reopened.

In a statement to News 5, a spokesperson with the rail company said:

“The city is making those repairs and we are reimbursing any costs.”

Communication with Norfolk Southern changed
Just two weeks after that commission meeting, Sandusky city leaders noticed their messages to Norfolk Southern started to get returned.

"Seeing this many crews out here looks great," Klein told News 5 on Thursday. "The railroad has been a lot more cooperative. The people we have been dealing with, it's not they have been uncooperative, they just haven't had the sense of urgency."

Klein added that the rail company is now engaging in weekly progress meetings to discuss the steps needed to fully reopen the underpass.

"Using the term progress has been nice," Klein said, smiling.

Norfolk Southern is the same railroad company responsible for the February 3, 2023, derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

RELATED: Latest updates and news on the East Palestine train derailment, its cause, impact on residents and environmental effects

"I hate to say something like that helped anything, but I do think what happened there and the publicity they’re getting out there really helped this project move forward more quickly," Klein said.

What's next
Klein told News 5 there’s still quite a bit of work left to be done before the southbound lane could open as well.

"The railroad has offered cooperation and made some movement to getting things fixed," Poggiali said. "Now if we can get them to agree to pay for the improvements we want to make, we'll be headed toward rectifying this situation."

Clay LePard is a special projects reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow him on Twitter @ClayLePard or on Facebook Clay LePard News 5

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