BNSF Completes Critical Idaho Bridge Project

After completing a new bridge over Lake Pend Oreille in 2022, BNSF began rebuilding the original Northern Pacific span built in 1904. A Portland-bound Z train is seen crossing the new bridge on July 20. Photo by Justin Franz. 

BNSF Completes Critical Idaho Bridge Project

By Justin Franz

SANDPOINT, Idaho — BNSF Railway completed a critical bridge project at Sandpoint, Idaho, over the weekend that will allow for smoother operations at one of the busiest railroad junctions in the Pacific Northwest. 

On Sunday, BNSF completed its Sandpoint Junction Connector project when it cut in a new section of main line approaching the recently-completed bridge over Lake Pend Oreille, as well as repairs to the original bridge built by the Northern Pacific in 1904. Now BNSF has two tracks over Lake Pend Oreille, which has long been a choke point for rail traffic coming to and from the railroad’s busy “Funnel” between Sandpoint, Idaho, and Spokane, Wash. East of Sandpoint, traffic goes two ways, either north onto BNSF’s Northern Transcon (aka: the former Great Northern) or south onto Montana Rail Link (the former NP). Sandpoint also plays host to two other railroads, Union Pacific and Pend Oreille Valley Railroad, making it a great destination for railroad enthusiasts. 

An eastbound Z-train passes the Sandpoint, Idaho, depot on July 19. In the foreground, the soon-to-be-connected second main line is seen, as well as a temporary Amtrak platform over it. Photo by Justin Franz. 

BNSF has wanted to double-track its main line over Lake Pend Oreille for more than a decade. In 2019, it began construction of a second bridge over the lake about 50 feet west of the original one. The replacement couldn’t come soon enough: at least twice in 2016 and again in 2022, the bridge had to be closed for emergency repairs. The new bridge finally opened in November 2022, allowing BNSF to close the original and begin more permanent repairs. 

“The completion of this bridge is a big win for our customers and the community, especially before the start of the fall harvest season,” said John Cech, vice president of engineering for BNSF. “This milestone is thanks to many team members spanning across multiple departments who collaborated to help improve the consistency of our service. This bridge will be critical moving forward to address our long-term growth and will allow us to meet customer expectations for the next century or more.”

While the new bridge over the lake was completed last year, BNSF still needed to complete two smaller bridges over Sand Creek and Bridge Street near downtown Sandpoint before the project was complete. Once those bridges were done, BNSF was able to cut in the second main line approach on the east end of the lake. The railroad said the upgrades will help reduce congestion on rail lines in and around Sandpoint and that local residents should see shorter wait times at area crossings. 

A crane and the platform that was used to build the new bridge and repair the original is seen at the east end of Lake Pend Oreille on July 19. Photo by Justin Franz.

This article was posted on: August 8, 2023