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Sandpoint Junction Connector opens to rail traffic

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | November 22, 2022 1:00 AM

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

Completed nearly a year ahead of schedule, the Sandpoint Junction Connector bridge across Lake Pend Oreille began seeing traffic on Sunday, railroad officials said in a Monday press release.

“We are excited about the benefits this second bridge brings, including reducing congestion and helping to move current rail traffic more efficiently,” Matt Jones, director of public affairs for BNSF, said. “Mostly though, 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 of the new bridge.”

BNSF’s main line meets up with Montana Rail Link at Sandpoint, previously creating a bottleneck where multiple tracks merged into a single track to cross Lake Pend Oreille. Construction of the second bridge, which runs parallel to the first, will allow trains to cross the lake in both directions, BNSF Railway officials said.

Having the parallel bridges will eliminate the need for trains to wait their turn to cross the lake. As a result, BNSF officials said the flow of freight and passenger trains will be improved throughout the region.

“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 the work, which is expected to be completed in mid-2023.

Once improvements are finished, both bridges — running parallel about 50 feet apart — will be open for rail traffic. The completed bridge is 4,873 feet in length, comprised of 49 spans, 224 precast concrete girders and 6-pile bents totaling approximately 55,000 feet of 36-inch pipe pile.

The bridge has alternately been welcomed and opposed in the community. Supporters of the project say it will facilitate commerce and reduce holdups at at-grade railroad crossings in Bonner County. Opponents maintain it will increase the likelihood of hazardous material spills and derailments, in addition to exacerbating global climate change through added fossil fuel consumption.

BNSF Railway officials said previously that Sandpoint Junction Connector went through a significant permitting process, with multiple opportunities for public comment. A “robust and comprehensive review of the project” was conducted, with more than a year of studies supporting its construction.

Environmental protection was built into the project, BNSF Railway officials said. Among them, BNSF planned to use bubble curtains to reduce sound pressure impacts to bull trout.

The second bridge was designed to have fewer piers than the existing bridge and would align approximately with every other pier of existing bridge, thereby minimizing the amount of underwater structures.

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

Information: keepsandpointrolling.com

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(Photo courtesy BILL BENDER)

Railroad cars can be seen on both the newly constructed railroad bridge and the existing BNSF Railway bridge across Lake Pend Oreille in mid-October.

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(Photo courtesy BILL BENDER)

Railroad officials announced Monday that the Sandpoint Junction Connector bridge across Lake Pend Oreille saw its first rail traffic on Sunday. Above, railroad cars can be seen on both the newly constructed railroad bridge and the existing BNSF Railway bridge in mid-October.

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