Sandpoint Junction is open to rail traffic

SANDPOINT – BNSF Railway’s second rail bridge is open for business.

The Sandpoint Junction Connector Bridge, which was completed nearly a year ahead of schedule, began seeing traffic on Sunday, rail officials said in a news release Monday.

“We are excited about the benefits this second bridge brings, including reducing congestion and helping to move existing rail traffic more efficiently,” said Matt Jones, director of public affairs at BNSF. “Nevertheless, we are incredibly grateful to the residents of Sandpoint and the Greater Bonner County area for their patience and support throughout the three-year construction period of the new bridge.”

The BNSF’s main line meets the Montana Rail Link at Sandpoint, previously creating a bottleneck as multiple tracks were combined into one to cross Lake Pend Oreille. BNSF Railroad officials said that the construction of the second bridge, which runs parallel to the first, would allow trains to cross the lake in both directions.

The presence of parallel bridges will eliminate the need to wait for trains to cross the lake. As a result, BNSF officials said the flow of freight and passenger trains around the region would be improved.

“The completion of the new rail bridge will also facilitate maintenance activities, including a modernization project on the original rail bridge,” Jones said.

Jones said the existing bridge will be closed while crews perform work, which is expected to be completed in mid-2023.

Once the improvements are completed, both bridges – parallel about 50 feet apart – will be opened to rail traffic. The completed bridge is 4,873 feet long, consisting of 49 spans, 224 precast concrete beams and 6 piles totaling approximately 55,000 feet of 36-inch pipe pile.

The bridge has been alternately welcomed and opposed in the community. Supporters of the project say it will facilitate commerce and reduce disruption at grade-level railroad crossings in Bonner County. Opponents insist it will increase the likelihood of hazardous material spills and derailments, as well as exacerbate global climate change through increased consumption of fossil fuels.

BNSF Railroad officials previously said that the Sandpoint Junction Connector has gone through a significant permitting process, with multiple opportunities for public comment. A “robust and comprehensive review of the project” was undertaken, with over a year of studies supporting its construction.

BNSF Railway officials said environmental protection was incorporated into the project. Among them, the BNSF planned to use bubble curtains to reduce the effects of sound pressure on bull trout.

The second bridge is designed to have fewer piers than the current bridge and will align with nearly every other pier of the existing bridge, thus reducing the amount of underwater structures.

BNSF Rail operates approximately 32,500 miles of track in 28 states and also operates in three Canadian provinces.




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